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In the course of the eighteenth century, a Turkoman 
soldier of fortune, Nadir Kuli, better known to the 
world as Nadir Shah, raised Persia to the first place 
among Oriental powers ; and notwithstanding the 
insane hatred which during the latter part of his life 
he showed towards his sensitive and quick-witted 
people, who had fought well for him, he is regarded 
by Persians of the present day as one of the greatest 
of their national heroes. This book is an attempt to 
make his character and times more familiar than they 
are to English readers. 

After some doubt, I have written it in the form 
of a romance. I have done this partly with the 
hope of giving it more life and colour, partly because 
the existing accounts of Nadir Shah, whether Persian 
or European, are hardly the material from which exact 
history could now be written. Many controversies 
have arisen even about the career of Napoleon. 
Considering that Nadir Shah spent his life fighting in 
Asia, and died before Napoleon was born, it is natural 
that in his case the facts should sometimes have be- 
come hopelessly obscured. For example, the blinding 
of his favourite son, Reza Kuli Khan, is generally 


regarded as the turning-point of Nadir's career; but 
though all agree about this, I found it impossible 
when I was in Persia to make sure of the time and 
place at which the tragedy occurred, or of some other 
circumstances connected with it. Altogether, after en- 
deavouring in vain to reconcile the evidence, written 
and oral, with regard to many incidents in the great 
conqueror's life, and to fill up gaps in the informa- 
tion, I have preferred to deal with the subject from 
a point of view other than that of the historian. By 
this I do not mean that I have written a story which 
I believe to be inconsistent with known facts. On 
the contrary, I have done my best throughout to treat 
known facts with proper respect. But the book does 
not pretend to be a history. 

The stories of Nadir's dream, and of the Shirazi and 
Ferrash, were told to me, almost word for word as I 
have given them here, by one of the Shah's ministers, 
a typical Persian of the old school, easy-going and 
genial and witty, who to my great satisfaction used 
often to enliven our official interviews, and lead me 
away from awkward diplomatic points, by some excur- 
sion of the kind. He said the stories were told to him 
in his youth by a very old and very holy Mujtehid, 
who had heard them fifty or sixty years before from 
the Ferrash himself, who helped the lady to escape 
from the camp, with considerable plunder, on the night 
of Nadir's death, and afterwards married her and 
settled down as a country gentleman. 

The descriptions of Persian scenes, and of Nadir 


Shah's surroundings, have been drawn from notes 
taken down on the spot, or from accounts left by eye- 
witnesses. They are as accurate as I could make 
them. H. M. D. 

2nd August 1908. 

























^„ XXIV. 
„ XXV. 
„ XXVI. 
































CHAPTER XXIX. ...... 212 

XXX 218 

„ XXXI. ...... 223 

„ XXXII. ...... 228 


XXXIV 240 

XXXV 249 

XXXVI 255 



XXXIX 278 

XL 283 

XLI 288 

„ XLII. ...... 292 

XLIII. ...... 298 

XLIV. ...... 302 

XLV. ...... 308 

XLVI 313 

XLVII 318 

XLVIII. . . . . . .322 

XLIX 334 

L. ...... 339 

„ LI. ...... 346 






From a Picture in the India Office. 

From Fraser's ' History of Nadir Shah,' 1742. 


From a Letter of the Jesuit Frere Bazin. 

A YUSUFZAI . . . . . . . .96 

From Elphinstone's * Account ofCaubuL.' 

AN AFGHAN ....... 100 

From Elphinstone's ^Account of CaubuV 

DEMAVEND ....... 155 

From a Sketch by James Morier. 

A TAKHT I RAVAN ...... 158 

From a Sketch by James Morier. 

NADIR SHAH ....... 212 

From Hanway's ' Travels.' (The royal plume is incorrectly shown 
on the left instead of the right side of the turban.) 

PERSIAN KEJAVEHS . . . . . .220 

From a Photograph. 


From a Sketch by James Morier. 


BAY, 1743 . . . . . . .226 

From Hanway's ' Travels.' 

From a Photograph by Sevroguine, 



JBYom Hanway's * Travels.* 

A PYRAMID OF HEADS, 1744 . . . . .254 

From Hanway's ' Travels.' 


From a Sketch by James Morier, 


From Porter's ' Travels.' 


From a Photograph by Captain Crookshank, R.E. 

HIS LIFE . . . . .At end of Volume 


In the King's pavilion, surrounded by the tents and 
camp-fires of a great army, three men were drinking 
together and talking over the scenes of a memorable 

They lay on soft carpets, after the Persian manner, 
propped up by cushions, and all of them seemed 
thoroughly at their ease and free from constraint. 

Nevertheless it was evident that one of the three 
was of superior rank. His carpet was spread upon a 
wooden platform or ' takht,' richly carved and inlaid, 
while the other two lay upon the ground to right and 
left of him. Except for some jewels in his turban, his 
dress was simple, but his eyes and manner were those 
of a man used to command. The strong, black-bearded 
face, tanned by exposure to sun and weather, and the 
tall, powerful frame, spoke of the camp rather than 
the Court. He was, in truth, the greatest soldier of his 
day. Nadir Kuli, the Turkoman robber-chief who had 
made himself Shah of Persia. He had freed his country 
from a foreign yoke, routing the Afghans and Turks in 
many battles, and forcing the Russians to give up the 
provinces they had seized. Now he was encamped on 
Indian soil, attacking the great empire of the Moghuls, 
whose army had been defeated by him a few days 

His successes had not been due to courage alone* 


An Englishman of that day wrote of him what might 
have been written of Napoleon. * In the conduct of his 
wars he ever preferred stratagem to force. His marches 
were always amazingly rapid, and his progress so 
irregular and contrary to the ordinary rules of war, 
that he confounded his enemies.' 

Yet Nadir looked what he was, a man good at close 
quarters. By his side, in place of a sceptre, lay the 
battle-axe he had carried through all his fields — a plain 
fighting weapon, which had taken the life of many 
enemies. It was always ready to his hand, and had 
won for him the name by which he had long been 
known — Topuz Khan — The Lord of the Axe. 

The man to his right was very different in appear- 
ance. He had the dark eyes and thick black eyebrows 
of the Persian, and a face that must once have been 
handsome. But the regular features had lost their 
fineness, and the eyes, though still intelligent and 
bright with humour, were discoloured and sunk under 
heavy lids. His round thighs and shoulders gave 
evidence of sedentary work and want of exercise. This 
was Mirza Ali Akbar, the keeper of the records, whose 
duty it was to receive and lay before the Shah all 
petitions which might be submitted. Practically he 
had become the Shah's chief minister. He had shown 
himself a clever and useful servant, with a special 
talent for finding money to meet his master's perpetual 
needs, and he was besides an amusing companion, with 
a bottomless fund of laughter and anecdote. 

The last of the three was little more than a boy. 
The down was still soft on his chin, and his frame was 
not yet filled out. But he gave promise of growing 
into a man of great size and power, and he had already 
shown himself a brave soldier. He was not a Persian, 


but an Afghan called Ahmed Khan, whom the Shah 
had taken prisoner in the storm of Kandahar, on his 
march to India, and had since kept *at the royal 
stirrup.' He too was one day to be a famous conqueror. 
No man worked harder than Nadir Shah. Like all 
really great men, he knew that the secret of abiding 
success is untiring industry. But in the evening, when 
he ended the long day's work which had begun at 
sunrise, he liked to retire to his tent with one or two 
of his people, and to forget for a few hours, over his 
food and his wine-cups, the labours and cares of his 
life. Then he unbent entirely, and became again, as he 
used to say. Nadir Kuli, not Nadir Shah, encouraging 
those about him to talk and laugh as if he were one 
of themselves. 

At these informal supper-parties all mention of 
public business was forbidden. 

The Shah and his companions had made a hearty 
meal, for Persians and Afghans alike have magnificent 
appetites. Pile after pile of rice and roast lamb, 
served in various forms, had been set before them, and 
partridges, and young chickens stewed in vine leaves, 
and grapes, and long white melons, the Shah's favourite 
fruit, brought for hundreds of miles by fast camels in 
the wake of the army. They had slaked their thirst 
with deep draughts of wine, the generous wine of 
Shiraz, which sparkled like molten gold in the golden 
goblets. And now they were lying back on their cushions 
at peace with the world. The Shah's servants had 
cleared away the dishes, and after pouring warm 
water over the hands of each, had left on the carpet a 
tray of sweets and a squat wood-stoppered flask of 
Shiraz, while they prepared the ' kalian ' or water-pipe 
which follows a Persian dinner. 


The Shah was the first to break a short silence. 

*It is strange,' he said in his deep voice, *that the 
Indians have not yet sent the slaves they were ordered 
to send. By the head of my father they will repent it 
if there is any trickery.' 

It was a shameful tribute that he was awaiting ; but 
like other eastern conquerors he exacted it from every 
beaten enemy. The Moghul Emperor had come to the 
Persian camp that day to sue for peace. He had 
returned after some hours of bitter humiliation, and 
as he left the Shah's pavilion, his officers had been 
reminded that they had orders to send at once fifty of 
the most beautiful maidens of India, and as many slave 
boys, for the Shah's approval. The Shah was expecting 
them now, and with some impatience. He had already 
in his camp hundreds of women of various nationali- 
ties, Persians and Georgians and others, whom he had 
distributed among his chiefs and soldiery. But the 
women of India, except a few peasants, he had not yet 
seen, and it was said that they were not without beauty. 

Ali Akbar drained the goblet of Shiraz and put it 
down beside him. His cheeks were flushed and his 
eyes were bright. *The Indians will not dare to 
disobey,' he said. 'Whose dogs are they that they 
should trifle with the orders of the King of Kings? 
But they have hardly had time as yet to collect the 
slaves and send them.' 

Then he turned with a laugh to Ahmed Khan. 
* What are the black women like ? You should know, 
boy as you are, for Kandahar is near to Hindustan. 
Tell the King about them. Are they slender as the 
cypress, and are their eyes like the stars of night? 
They say you are a poet, and can make verses like 
Hdfiz. Let us have a stanza or two. You have hardly 


drunk or spoken to-night. Speak now for the service 
of the King.' 

Ahmed Khan coloured at the ring of contempt in the 
voice of the older man. *I know nothing about the 
women of Hind,' he said, ' and it is not my custom to 
talk about women. I serve the King with deeds, not 

The Persian threw himself back on his cushions and 
burst into a peal of laughter. ' He does not talk about 
women. He serves the King by deeds, not words. Ai 
Af rin ! Af rin ! Bravo ! Bravo ! So young and yet so 
mighty,' and his fat sides heaved with his mirth. 

Ahmed Khan answered hotly, * There is nothing to 
laugh at. But a man who has drunk a camel load of 
Shiraz will laugh at anything.' 

Ali Akbar only laughed the more. ' He sees nothing 
to laugh at. Oh the buffalo calf, the Afghan buffalo 
calf! When God had many asses, why did He make 
the Afghan?' 

Nadir bent down and laid his hand on the boy's 
shoulder. There was laughter in his eyes too, and it 
had stung Ahmed Khan. But now he repressed him- 
self. ' You have spoken the truth,' he said. ' You 
have done good service, young as you are. Ali Akbar 
meant no harm. It is his way. He would laugh at hi's 
grandfather's beard.' 

As the Shah spoke there was a noise outside the 
pavilion — the tramp of horses, and the voices of men, 
and the shrill trumpeting of an elephant. Nadir sat up 
and listened. A servant came in, stepping softly in his 
woollen socks over the felts and carpets that covered 
the floor. He made a deep reverence before the Shah's 
seat, and stood with his eyes cast down. ' What is it ? ' 
Nadir said. 


' I beg to represent for the service of the Shah that 
the Indians have sent a present, an elephant and some 
horses, and a hundred slaves.' 

Nadir's eyes brightened. 'Ah,' he said. 'At last. 
Bring the slaves into the outer tents, and tell me when 
all is ready. I will come and see.' 

When the man came back the Shah rose, and telling 
the others to follow him, he walked out of the tent 
where he had been sitting. First he went to see the 
animals, which were standing outside in the torch-light, 
'i'here was a tall elephant with hanging ' jhul ' of cloth 
of gold, encrusted with precious stones, and a row of 
horses richly caparisoned. The elephant lifted its 
trunk and saluted at a signal from its driver. The 
Shah loved horses as much as women, but it was too 
dark to see them properly then. He would inspect 
them in the morning when there was light. * Now show 
me the slaves,' he said, and a negro in attendance led 
the way to a long tent brightly lighted, and carpeted 
with soft felt. Ranged along both sides of it were 
fifty boys in clothing of embroidered muslin and 
brocade. The Shah walked down the tent looking to 
right and left, and ordered that the boys should attend 
his Durbar or Court next day. Then the negro led him 
to a second tent, where the Indian girls were assembled. 
In the middle of the tent, an embroidered slipper in his 
hand, stood a black eunuch who had come in charge of 
the girls, and had been marshalling them to receive 
the Shah. 

As Nadir entered they all bent low with an Indian 
' salaam.' There were many beautiful faces there, and 
many graceful forms, for Indian women yield to none 
in loveliness of face and figure. But as Nadir looked 
down the room, one of the girls especially struck his 


fancy, and walking to the middle of the line, where she 
was standing, he stopped before her. She was tall and 
slight, with black hair and dark eyes, but with a com- 
plexion as fair as that of many Europeans. A bright 
flush was in her cheeks, and she held herself erect, 
with a touch of defiance which singled her out from 
the rest. 

'Who is this girl?' Nadir said to the eunuch in 

*My Lord, a maiden of the Rajputs.' 

The girl looked the Shah in the face. * A Rajputni, 
but no maiden,' she said. * I have been a wife.' 

The eunuch stepped forward hastily, and raised his 
slipper as though he would have struck her across the 
mouth. The next instant he recoiled in alarm, for 
with a sudden movement the girl had drawn a dagger 
from the breast of her dress, and though she held it 
quietly across her, point downwards, there was no mis- 
taking the warning in her eyes. 

To right and left of the Shah were standing Ahmed 
Khan and Ali Akbar, whom in the licence of camp life 
he had taken with him. As the dagger flashed in the 
lamp-light, Ahmed Khan stepped quickly forward with 
uplifted hand, between the Shah and the fiery girl. 
Ali Akbar as quickly sprang backwards. ' God savf3 
us ! ' he exclaimed, in alarm. 

Nadir looked over his shoulder and smiled con- 
temptuously. Ali Akbar coloured. *I am a man of 
the pen, not a man of the sword,' he said with an 
uneasy laugh. 

Nadir turned from him in silence. He drew Ahmed 
Khan back into his place, and stood before the girl 
with a look in which there was something of admira- 


* Give me the knife,' he said sternly. The girl looked 
in his face, hesitated an instant, and obeyed. Nadir 
took the weapon from her and thrust it carelessly into 
the shawl he wore about his waist. 

* Do you know,' he asked, * what is the penalty for 
drawing steel in the King's presence ? ' The girl did not 

* It is death.' 

She remained silent, but he saw the heaving of her 
heart under the tight bodice. He turned to the 

* Mannerless dog,' he said, ' you may thank God that 
you are the servant of the Emperor. But for that the 
rods should have broken every bone in your body.' 

Then he passed slowly down the lines of startled 
women, and looked them over carelessly one by one. 
As he came back, past the point where the Rajputni 
was standing, his eyes fell on her again, and lingered a 

He returned to the tent where he had dined ; but he 
seemed to be in no mood for further talk. He dis- 
missed his companions with a curt word of farewell, 
and went into the Anderun, or women's quarters. 



When the King had entered the tent in which he usually 
slept, he took his seat on the takht prepared for him, 
leant back on his cushions, and remained for a few 
minutes in silent thought. 

The remembrance of the scene he had just witnessed 
seemed to be pleasing to him, for a faint smile came 
into his face. He drew the dagger from his waistband 
and looked at it curiously. ' A woman's toy,' he said to 
himself, ' but she would have used it, and it was enough 
to frighten two men. Men ! She is more of a man than 
either of them ! How beautiful she looked ! ' He put 
the dagger down on the takht beside his axe, and 
paused a moment. Then he called for a servant. 
' Send me the Agha Bashi.' 

The Agha Bashi or chief eunuch came at once. He 
was a tall negro, with a sad but pleasant face. In all 
the great King's following there was perhaps no one' 
whom he trusted so thoroughly, and with reason, for 
the man was worthy of trust. He had the fidelity of 
his race for those he loved, and he loved Nadir, who 
had rescued him from ill-treatment some years before 
and had given him service. A quick eye for character 
and a half -generous, half-calculating kindness to men 
who were in trouble had won Nadir many friends. He 
never did a wiser thing than when he promoted the 
grateful African to the charge of his Andertin, a charge 


which meant close attachment to his person, and con- 
siderable power. 

'You know what happened just now when I was 
looking at the Indian women.' 

The negro bent his head. * I know. I saw it all.' 

* The girl is beautiful.' 

* Beautiful as a Peri.' 

* I want to see her alone.' 

The negrcf looked troubled. * Ba chashm — on my eyes 
be it, but ' 

' Well, what is it ? You think there is danger, that 
the Indians have sent her here to do me evil?' and 
Nadir laughed. 

*She is only a weak girl, and the Shah is stronger 
than the hero Rustem, but ... I trust no woman, least 
of all one of these Indians. She is not like other 

Nadir laughed again. *A woman who can do what 
she did is more to be trusted than a lying Persian. 
Send her to me.' 

The negro hesitated. Nadir laid his hand on the 
man's shoulder with a touch that was almost a caress. 

'I know, I know,' he said, *and you do well to be 
careful. But there is no danger. Send the girl here.' 

The last words were quietly spoken, but they were a 
command. The Agha Bashi laid his hand on his heart 
and bent his head again. * Whatever the Shah wills,' 
he answered, and passed out. 

A few minutes went by, and then the hanging curtain 
at the doorway was held aside, and the Rajput girl 
stepped into the Shah's presence. The curtain dropped 
behind her. After a quick glance round the room her 
eyes fell, and she stood before him in silence. For 
some seconds he did not speak, but gazed at her steadily, 


and even in the dim lamp-light he could see that with 
all her proud carriage, her breast was heaving and her 
hands shook as she arranged a fold of her dress about 
her. He could see too that his first impression had not 
been false. Though very young, she was beautiful as 
few women are, and the delicate Indian dress displayed 
rather than hid the gracefulness of her slight but deep- 
bosomed figure. At last he spoke. * Come nearer,' he 
said, ' and stand in front of me.' She walked forward 
and stopped again, within a few feet of him. 

*Look up, girl, and answer my questions, and see that 
you speak the truth.' 

She raised her eyes, and looked at him. His face did 
not seem unfriendly. 

* You are frightened, girl. What is it ? ' 

* I am not frightened, but, my Lord, you said that . . . 
that for what I had done the punishment was death.' 

'Let your heart be at rest. I meant only to warn 
you. You are forgiven.' 

She put her hand to her forehead. * The King is great 
and merciful. What am I that I should trouble the 
King ? God knows I meant no harm. But I will not 
be beaten by eunuchs.' 

Nadir smiled and held out the dagger she had 
surrendered to him. * Take it,' he said. * Maybe you will 
want it again one day, but do not draw it too readily.' 

She put it back in the breast of her dress. 

' How is it that you speak Persian ? ' 

' My Lord, I have lived at the Moghul Court. Every 
one there learns to speak Persian.' 

* What is your name ? ' 

*My Rajput name was Meera Bai, but I have been 
called by another name, Sitara.' 

* That is easier, and it is a lucky name. Now answer 


me. What made you speak as you did in the tent? 
Is it true?' 
The blood came into her face. 

* Yes, it is true.* 

*But why did you say it? Did you not know that 
you were playing with your life ? ' 

* Yes, I knew it ; but what is life to me ? And I did 
not think the King would kill me. I thought he would 
send me back and punish the Moghuls for deceiving 

* Why should I punish the Moghuls ? ' 

* Why should you not ? ' she answered bitterly. * Is it 
fitting to lay before the King of Kings the food half 
eaten by a dog ? ' 

' You have no love for the Moghuls ? ' 
' Does a woman love those who have slain her kindred 
and brought her to shame ? ' 

* Then why did you wish to go back ? ' 

* My Lord, I am a Hindu. I feared I should be given 
to one of the King's soldiers and taken away beyond 
the mountains, to the land of the man-sellers. I would 
die rather.' 

Nadir thought of his Turkoman horse, with their flat 
Tartar faces and filthy sheepskins, a horror to the clean 
and delicately dressed Indians. 

*My spearmen are rough folk,' he said. *So the 
Indians fear them ? ' 

* Yes, my Lord. Dreadful tales are told about them 
in the Moghul camp.' 

*What do they say?' 

* I hear people say that their horses are as large as 
elephants, and breathe fire as they come galloping into 
the fight ; and that the riders have the heads of wild 
beasts, bears and tigers and lions.' 


Nadir laughed aloud. ' Fools and cowards ! ' he 

The girl's head went up. ' Without doubt there are 
cowards among them, but there are many brave men. 
Many are Rajputs.' 

Nadir smiled. *They could do nothing when they 
met my troops.' 

' My Lord, they have no leaders. The Moghul lords 
know nothing of war, and many are faithless to their 
salt. What is the Emperor himself but a woman, and 
less than a woman ? ' 

Nadir agreed in his heart, but he answered with pre- 
tended sternness : ' Girl, you are speaking of a King.' 
He always stood by his order. 

* Forgive me, my Lord. But he has not seen war. 
If one like the Shah had led the Indians they would 
not have fled.' 

She spoke in simple earnestness, and Nadir saw it. 
Her words pleased him more than the extravagant 
flatteries of the men about him. 

* You do right to speak well of your people,' he said. 
' But tell me your own story. What have the Moghuls 
done to you ? ' 

Her face clouded over and her eyes grew hard. 

* My Lord, I am nothing. What can I say that the i 
King would care to hear ? ' 

' But I wish to hear it. Tell me all from the begin- 
ning. There is nothing to fear.' 

She paused a moment and collected herself. 

* My Lord, I am a Rajputni of the tribe of the Rahtors. 
My father was a Thakur — a chieftain — and his name 
was well known in our country. He had held his fort 
and his lands against all men, and my brothers, too, 
were strong and brave. 


* As our custom is, I was married when I was a child, 
but I remained in my father's house. Before they 
came to take me away to the place where I was to live 
. . . there had been foolish talk about me.' 

* What did they say ? That you were beautiful ? ' 
She flushed hotly. * These things are said without 


Nadir smiled. ' They did not lie,' he said. * Go 

*My Lord, it was the ruin of our house. For some 
time there had been a Moghul force not far off making 
war on another Thakur, who had raided across the 
Moghul border. He was at feud with us, and the 
Moghul leader had made friendship with my people, 
so that we feared nothing. One night some of his men 
had come to my father with a message, and had been 
received into our fort. We had a fort on a hill, and at 
the foot was a village of reed huts with a thorn fence 
round it. It was not a great fort, but it was strong 
for our country. It had often been besieged and never 

' Suddenly a little before dawn there was a noise of 
firing and shouting, and my people woke from their 
sleep to find that the gateway had been opened, and 
that the Moghuls were rushing up the stone slope into 
the fort, killing every one they could see. They had 
crept up in the darkness, and the gates had been 
opened by their men inside.' 

Her voice faltered, but she controlled herself and 
went on quietly : 

* We were not thinking of any treachery, and they 
were ten to one. My father and brothers fought, as 
our people have always fought, but what could they 
do ? They had not even time to kill the women, and 


we found ourselves in the hands of the Moghuls. The 
huts below had been set on fire, and one or two jumped 
from the walls of the fort into the flames and became 
* sati,' pure. The rest were taken, and I among them. 
My hands were bound with handkerchiefs, and I was 
tied upon a camel.' 

' Faithless dogs ! And then ? ' 

'AH that day and night and all the next day we 
marched fast, for the clansmen were said to be gather- 
ing to rescue us. On the second evening the Moghuls 
had reached safety in the great fort of Ajmir, and I 
was taken from the camel and put on a charpai — a 
string bed. Then an old woman came and told me 
all the evil had been done for my sake, that a young 
Moghul lord had heard of me and sent the troops to 
carry me off. She said he was young and handsome, 
and that he would take me into his zenana, and that 
it was a great honour for a Hindu girl.' 

Her eyes flashed and her breath came fast. 'What 
did you say ? ' Nadir asked. 

' My Lord, I thought of my father and my brothers. 
I said that I was a Rajputni and that no Moghul dog 
should touch me, and I know not what more.' 
' You spoke well. And after that ? ' 
' The woman laughed. She was an old woman with 
an evil face, and as she leant over me I saw my " putli," 
my image, in her eyes, head downward, and I knew she 
was a witch. Then I was frightened and begged her 
to help me ; but she only laughed and said I was a fool, 
and left me alone.' 
' And after that ? ' 

' Afterwards he came and stood looking at me. He 
was not a warrior like my people, but soft and womanish 
like the Lords of the Court, and I hated him. He spoke 


to me, and I answered I know not what. I was mad 
with grief and anger.' 

* You did well. And then ? ' 

'Then he grew angry too, and said he would tame 
me, and at last he struck me on the mouth.' She 
clenched her hands. 

* Cowardly hound ! And then ? ' 

'My Lord, I was bound and helpless. What could 

She covered her face with her hands, and a sob broke 
from her. 

Nadir sprang from his seat with an oath, and laid 
his hand on her shoulder. She shrank back and shook 
herself free. He stood gazing at her with rage in his 

* By Allah ! he shall die the death of a dog.* 

She shook her head and controlled herself. 'He is 

* Alhemdulillah ! Praise be to God! Tell me the 

* For some days more I remained in Ajmir, and then 
we marched away to the north. I wanted to kill my- 
self, but I could not. They used to untie me to let me 
eat, and then they bound my hands again with twisted 
handkerchiefs. They said I should remain so until I 
grew quiet. 

* One night when we were in camp, and had marched 
far from my country, the old witch came again and 
jeered at me, and I said I would resist no more if they 
would untie my hands. I was broken with grief, and 
I could not bear the pain any longer. I thought that 
if I could get free I should find some way of killing 
myself, and I promised. 

'Then they unbound me, and I was married. A 



Mulla, a priest, came and said some Mussulman spells, 
and made me repeat their cursed " kalima. " ' ^ 

* Girl, you are blaspheming our holy faith.' 

She looked up quickly, and saw a mocking light in 
Nadir's eyes. 

* And then?' 

' My Lord, in the evening he came to me. If he had 
said a kind word then, I might have given in, for I was 
worn and broken, but he laughed and made me hate 
him. Then I thought of my people again, and as he 
tried to take me I snatched at the dagger he was wear- 
ing in his waistcloth, and struck him — once and twice.' 

* You killed him?' 

She shuddered and was silent. 

' Af rin ! And after that ? ' 

'After that I do not remember very well what 
happened, but no one had heard, and in the darkness 
I got away from the tent and into the fields. I walked 
as far as I could, and in the morning there was no one 
in sight. 

' That day I lay hidden in the long grass near some 
water I had found by chance, and while I was lying 
there some men came riding along a track which passed 
close by me. I watched them in fear lest they should 
be searching for me, but when they came near I saw ' 
that they were Marwari traders, from my own country, 
though not of my blood. They stopped and drank 
water, and I heard them speaking in our language. 
Then I showed myself and spoke to them. 

* They were afraid at first to do anything, for they 
had heard all about me, but after some talk they 

^ The kalima is the Mahomedan confession of faith. ' There is no God 
but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God.' The Persians add, ' And 
Ali is the friend of God.' 



said they would help me. So they took me away 
with them, and after a long time we came to Delhi, 
where the Court was. One of the Emperor s wives 
was a Rahtor princess from my own country, and 
was held in high honour. She was kind to me, and 
gave me shelter and food. I have been with her 
ever since. No one molested me, for I was the 
Queen's servant, and besides they said I was mad. 

* But I was a burden to her, and when the Emperor's 
people came to-day to make up the number of the slave 
girls, she could not protect me any longer, and they 
brought me here. What more can I say ? ' 

Nadir gazed at her in silence. She did not meet 
his eyes, but stood erect again, with the same touch 
of defiance which had attracted him at first. He 
had seen many women, but never, he thought, one 
like her, beautiful beyond words, and brave and 
impetuous, a woman worthy of himself. A sudden 
wave of passion came over him, something more 
than passion, a sudden desire to make that hot heart 
his own. 

With the quick instinct which rarely left him, he 
felt that if he could win her love, the love of a slave 
girl, whose person and life were at his mercy, he would 
win what he had never known yet. And all-powerful 
as he was, he stooped to sue for it. 

The very fact that she was what she was appealed to 
his masterful nature. He had taken pleasure in show- 
ing all about him that they were nothing but what he 
made them ; that the King's will was the one power to 
which they owed honour or disgrace. He would show 
it them again, men and women, and the Indian slave 
should at his word become a Queen before whom all 
should bow. 


She did not yield at once. Although he laid aside 
his rank and power, and appealed to her as any man 
might have done, with passionate admiration and 
entreaty, she was startled and shrank from his eager 
eyes. But what woman in her place would have 
resisted long? She, the helpless girl whom he could 
have handed over as he pleased to death, or the depths 
of dishonour, found herself wooed by the greatest King 
and conqueror of the age ; and as he stood before her, 
tall and straight and comely, with words of praise and 
tenderness on his lips, she would surely have been more 
or less than woman if her wounded heart had not gone 
out to him. 

' Oh, my Lord,' she said at last, with a great wonder 
and the dawn of a great joy filling her eyes, * Oh, my 
Lord, what am I that I should find favour in the sight 
of the King ? But if ifc is so indeed, then from this day 
I shall have no thought but to give my life for the 
King's service.' And with a swift movement she knelt 
and laid her hands on his feet. 

Nadir raised her. 'You shall not be a servant,' he 
said, * but a Queen. You said your Rahtor princess was 
the honoured wife of the Emperor of Hind. You shall 
be the honoured wife of a greater than the Moghul, 
and he and his women shall be as dust under your 

He put her aside suddenly and called for the Agha 
Bashi, to whom he gave an order. 

The negro came back soon after with one of the 
priests or muUas whom Nadir kept in his camp. 

When the brief informal ceremony was over, the 
muUa went out. Nadir laughed. ' Pidr Sukhteh ! ' he 
said, 'son of a burnt father! what foolishness it is. 
But for your sake it is better.' 


The Agha Bashi returned bearing a golden casket, 
which he opened and held before the Shah. It was 
full of jewels which glittered in the lamp-light. 

*Conie and choose for yourself,' Nadir said. 'You 
must wear to-night the ornaments of a queen.' 

She made a quick gesture of refusal. 

* But you shall wear them,' he said, and one by one 
he forced them upon her ; a * sarpich ' of diamonds for 
her head, and a broad armlet of emeralds, and golden 
bangles encrusted with gems for her slender wrists, 
and ropes of pearls for her throat and bosom. 

When he had adorned her as he pleased, he led her 
to the takht on which he had been seated, and made 
her take her seat beside him. 

As, many hundreds of years before, Esther the 
Jewess found favour in the sight of the great King 
Ahasuerus, so the Rajput girl had won the heart of 
his mighty successor. And deep in her own heart, born 
of his strength and tenderness, had come into being 
a love that would never leave it while she lived. 



The morning mist had cleared away from the plain 
in which the Persian host was encamped. There had 
been frost, but in the bright Indian sunshine the air 
was warm and pleasant. The sky was blue, without a 

Nadir Shah was to hold that day a great ' Durbar ' 
to celebrate his victory over the army of the Moghul. 
Sitara, concealed from all eyes, in the upper story of 
a building where the Agha Bashi had placed her, stood 
gazing through a screen of marble fretwork at the 
opening of the pageant. Nadir, as his custom was, had 
risen at dawn and had been at work for some hours 
despatching the business of the day. Now that the 
sun was well up, and that the assembly was ready to 
receive him, he came out from his tents, and mounted 
his horse to ride to the spot prepared. 

His approach was heralded by a mighty shout from; 
the thousands who had gathered on the open space in 
the middle of the camp, and Sitara, her heart beating 
fast with excitement, saw her royal lover appear. 
Before him came a hundred of his ' Chatish,' in brilliant 
uniforms of green and silver, who called out his titles 
and invoked blessings upon him. * In the name of God 
— the great and merciful. Victory to the King of 
Kings! — Victory! — Victory!' Then, alone, no man 
within ten paces of him, and none but himself on 


horseback, Nadir rode slowly past between the lines of 
his troops. 

Soldier as he was above all, he knew the effect of 
pomp and show upon the imagination of the East, and 
to-day nothing was wanting to make the ceremonial 
one of impressive splendour. He had laid aside the 
simple dress he usually wore, and was arrayed like 
Solomon in all his glory. On his head was a golden 
helmet, encrusted with pearls and gems in the shape 
of a crown. To the right side of it were fixed three 
black heron's feathers, the badge of Persian royajty, 
clasped together by a large diamond. A crimson 
mantle lined with fur fell from his shoulders. Under 
it he wore a coat of cloth of gold. In the Kashmir 
shawl which was wound about his waist glittered a 
jewelled dagger. His riding-boots of soft crimson 
leather rested in stirrups of beaten gold. His charger, 
a tall grey Turkoman, moved proudly under him, its 
arched neck adorned with a rich collar of gold and 
precious stones. The bridle and headpiece and breast- 
plate were also of gold, and studded with jewels. But 
in his right hand, as if to remind all about him that 
Nadir the King of Kings was still Nadir the soldier, he 
held in place of a sceptre the plain battle-axe which his 
people knew so well. 

At the foot of his throne the King dismounted. It 
was raised several steps above the ground, and sur- 
mounted by a cupola of gold, borne on golden rods. 
On each side of it stood a golden lion. Behind it were 
two lofty flagstaffs, from which floated the royal 
standards of crimson and yellow silk, embroidered with 
the Persian device of the lion and sun. 

As the King took his seat, there was a thunder of 
drumis and a blare of trumpets, and the whole of the 


great assembly before him bent low in salutation. 
Nadir bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment, and 
gave the signal for all to be seated who had a claim to 
the honour. 

Sitara watched him with pride and wonder in her 
eyes. He seemed so great and glorious, so far removed 
from her, that she found it hard to believe all was not 
'maya,' a delusion. Could it be true that she, the 
slave girl of yesterday, was now the beloved of that 
mighty being— almost a god, as he seemed to her ? 

But as she gazed, the assembly sank into order and 
silence, and her eyes wandered in womanly curiosity 
over the splendid scene. 

Close behind the Shah's throne stood the green- 
coated Chaush, and the royal bodyguard, tall men in 
white uniforms, with cuirasses of steel. These were 
armed, like himself, with battle-axes; but their 
weapons, unlike his own, were ornamented with gold 
and silver chasing. A golden axe was embossed on 
each man's breastplate. 

To right and left of the Shah's throne were five 
hundred slave boys, among them the Indians sent to 
the Shah the night before. These were marked out 
from the rest by their delicate muslins and embroideries, 
not less than by their dark faces and slender figures. 
A thousand young men of gentle birth, drawn up in 
single rank, enclosed the space set apart for the 
'Durbaris.' Each held in his hand a silver-topped 
lance, from which drooped a pennon of crimson silk, 
with silver fringe and tassels. A few paces to the rear 
of the line of pennons, on all four sides of the enclosure, 
stood the Guards, a body of picked soldiers six thousand 
strong. They were formed up in close order, four deep, 
two ranks facing outwards, two inwards. These troops 


were clothed in white uniforms and turbans, with 
breastplates of polished steel, and armed with sword 
and musket. The only points of colour about them 
were the crimson four-pointed caps, round the base of 
which the white turban was wound, and a badge in 
the waistband which served to distinguish the men of 
the several commands. 

Nadir might well look with pride upon those grand 
soldiers, hardened by his iron discipline and by years 
of war. Not all the East in arms would have broken 
that square. 

Within the enclosure facing the throne, the chief 
men of Nadir's Court sat in long lines upon the carpets 
which covered the ground. Behind them, hundreds 
more stood in even ranks, marshalled by the King's 
attendants. All kept their eyes cast down, and not a 
word was spoken. 

Outside the square, the men of the Persian army 
and its innumerable camp-followers had gathered to 
see what they could of the great ceremonial. Gazing 
down through her marble screen, Sitara saw them in 
their thousands ; the fierce warriors who had marched 
triumphant from the Caucasus to the Ganges, and 
filled all Asia with their renown. They were of many 
nations, Turkomans with flat Tartar faces and huge 
fur busbies; black-bearded stalwart Afghans, in loose 
white clothing or ' postins ' of sheepskin embroidered 
with yellow silk ; Bakhtiari tribesmen from the moun- 
tains of Central Persia, smaller men with a different 
type of face, wearing round caps of white felt; 
Georgians from the Caucasus, white-skinned and 
handsome and reckless ; wild Kurds from the Western 
border, who were said to worship the devil ; Arabs from 
the plain watered by the Kariin ; Persian * Kizlbash,' or 


red heads, so called from their scarlet caps, with scissor- 
clipped beards and long drooping moustaches, whose 
name was often applied to the whole army. Among 
the soldiers were wonien, the light loves of the camp, 
cloaked like men, and hardly to be distinguished from 

As Sitara's glance wandered over the motley crowd, 
she was struck by the hush that had fallen upon it. 
In the words of an eye-witness who was present at one 
of these gatherings : ' Dieu ! quelle vigoureuse adminis- 
tration ! Dans ce camp immense, plein d'une multi- 
tude melee, on eut dit un seul homme, retenant son 
haleine, tant il y avait de modestie et de crainte.' 

Sitara's eyes went back to the master of them all, 
seated under his golden canopy. He waited a few 
moments, with a proud joy in the display of his power, 
and then his deep voice broke the stillness. She was too 
far away behind him to hear what he said, but the strong 
tones reached to the farthest limits of the assembly in 
front of him. He spoke slowly, with the dignity and 
natural eloquence which seem to be the birthright of the 
East. If his words were not free from oriental hyperbole, 
they were the better suited to his hearers. He began, 
as ever, by giving God the glory. It had pleased the 
Most High, he said, before whom all men were as the i 
dust of the earth, to make the humblest of His 
creatures a conqueror and a king. Praise be to His 
name. And now it had pleased Him to vouchsafe to 
his servant another victory such as the world had 
never seen. 

By the favour of God, the host of the idolaters had 
been scattered. The men of Hind had come up to 
battle with pride and boasting, till the plain was black 
with their elephants and horsemen, and now what 


were they? The soldiers of Islam had rushed upon 
them like lions, «,nd their hearts had turned to water. 
Thousands had been hurled into hell, and those who 
had found safety in flight were cowering behind their 
entrenchments, not daring to face the royal troops in 
the open ' maidan.' 

The Emperor of Hind had presented himself at the 
royal footstool, and had sued for mercy, and this slave 
of the Merciful, remembering that the sword and 
clemency are twins, had set his heart at rest. 

The troops of Islam would now march on the capital, 
and if any of the black men ventured to raise again 
the standard of rebellion, they would be ground to 

Then Nadir announced that as a thank-offering for 
the victory, he had ordered a general distribution of 
rewards, in which all present would share. Their 
leaders would be honoured with *khilats,' robes of 
honour and presents, according to the valour they had 
shown, and every soldier would receive a gratuity of 
three months' pay. 

The Persians passed their hands over their beards, 
and a low murmur of applause made itself heard, but 
Nadir raised his hand to command silence. *It is 
nothing,' he said. * Remain faithful in the service of 
the King, and be assured that Nadir, the son of the 
Sword, will never forget the man who shows himself 
ready to throw away his life in the fight for the sake 
of Islam.' He paused, and then added with something 
of sternness in his tone, and something of mockery in 
his eyes : * And you who are not men of the sword, 
you also be. assured that faithful service will not be 
forgotten. You who are men of the pen, and you 
priests, let your service be done, and your prayers be 


offered, for the welfare of Islam. Be faithful and 
devoted, as these poor servants and priests of God, the 
men of the sword, have been faithful and devoted. 
Then it will be well with you. What more shall I 

For a moment there was silence, and then at a sign 
from him there was a roll of drums, with which mingled 
the shouts, no longer repressed, of the triumphant 

As the clamour died away, a score of richly clothed 
attendants advanced into the Durbar square, and passed 
down the lines, swinging before them jewelled censers 
from which rose clouds of perfumed incense. After 
them walked others bearing golden trays covered with 
sweetmeats, and golden vases from which they dis- 
tributed atar of roses. The men who had not the 
privilege of a seat on the carpet, and had remained 
standing, were similarly honoured, but the censers and 
vases and trays used for them were of silver instead of 

While the distribution went on, Nadir sat motionless 
under his canopy, one hand resting upon the head of 
the golden lion at his side, one holding his battle-axe. 
When all was over, and the attendants had replaced 
their censers and vases on two golden tables in front 
of him, he rose slowly, stood for a moment drawn up 
to his full height, looking proudly down on the silent 
ranks before him, and then, with a gesture of farewell, 
descended the steps from under his canopy, and mounted 
his horse. As the Turkoman stepped forward, champ- 
ing its golden bit, and arching its neck, the martial 
music broke out again, and once more the voices of the 
Chaush rose in a triumphant shout, 'Victory to the 
King of Kings ! — Victory ! — Victory ! ' 


And the Indian girl, hidden behind her marble 
lattice, saw him as he passed look up towards her. 
He made no sign, but she knew that in all his 
glory he was thinking of her, and her face flushed 
with a passion of pride and joy. 


Front Frasers * History 0/ Nadir Shah,' 1742 



In the camp of the victorious Persians the day was one 
of triumph and rejoicing. In the camp of the Moghul 
Emperor it passed in very different fashion. 

The evening before, as Nadir told his soldiery, the 
Moghul had presented himself at the footstool of his 
conqueror to sue for peace. He had suffered bitter 
humiliation. At the entrance to the Shah's camp, he 
had been forced to leave behind the scanty retinue he 
had brought with him, and to go on almost alone to 
Nadir's tent. There, it is true, he had been received 
with some show of the ceremony due to a king. Nadir 
Shah had come out as he alighted from his litter, had 
embraced him and bid him welcome, and had led him 
to a seat on the royal divan. But when the two 
monarchs were sitting side by side, and had made the 
customary inquiries after each other's health, Nadir 
had proceeded to inflict upon his beaten foe a merciless 
homily. He had reproached the Moghul with his 
weakness and indolence, his neglect of public affairs, 
his want of control and discipline over his officials and 
people, his rashness and incompetence in the field. 
* You were so puffed up, with your own childish conceits 
and foolish resolutions, that you would not listen to 
the honourable overtures which I made, or consult 
your own interest, until at last by the assistance of 
the Creator of the World, and the strength of the 


arms of the victorious warriors, you have seen what 
has happened. Your army has been routed and 
scattered. And now you have cooped yourselves up in 
your entrenchments, with your elephants and your 
guns, not considering that if your enemy was stronger 
you could not remain in them without food or water, 
and if he were weaker it was unnecessary and dis- 
graceful to let yourselves be besieged by him.' 

Nevertheless, the conqueror went on, he would not 
make the Moghul pay the full penalty for his misdeeds. 
* Hitherto your house has not injured the people of 
Persia. Therefore I shall not take the empire from 
you. But as your indolence and pride have obliged me 
to march so far and have put me to vast expense, and 
as my troops are fatigued and in want of necessaries, 
I must go on to Delhi. There I shall remain some 
days until my army is refreshed, and the tribute 
your ministers have promised has been paid to me. 
After that I shall leave you to look after your own 

To all this, and much more in the same strain, the 
fallen Emperor had been forced to listen. He had 
heard it in silence, his head bowed with shame. The 
descendant of a great line of warriors and kings, of 
Tamerlane and Humayun and Akbar, he had not dared, 
on the soil won by the swords of his forefathers, to say 
a word in answer to the contemptuous reproaches of 
the Turkoman soldier of fortune. 

After he had been dismissed, the Moghul re-entered 
his litter and was borne away through the lines of the 
Persian army towards his own camp. Overwhelmed 
with misery and shame, he shrank back behind the 
embroidered curtains, hiding his face from the eyes of 
the rough soldiery of Ir^n, who had gathered here and 


there to gaze upon the show. Their bold, disdainful 
stare filled him with impotent rage, and though he 
understood little of their language, he writhed under 
the mocking laughter which broke out now and again 
at some witty gibe. 

When he had passed the outer lines, and had been 
left to the escort of his own retinue, he pushed aside 
the curtains of his litter, and after a hasty glance round 
to see that he was safe, broke into a torrent of railing 
against the man who had humbled him. His shrill 
voice rose almost to a scream as he poured out his 
complaints and curses, now bemoaning with tearful 
self-pity the open disgrace to which he had been sub- 
jected ; now angrily declaring that he was still a king, 
and that he would lead out his army himself to take a 
fearful revenge on the accursed barbarians. But his 
boasting imposed on none. The very tone of his voice, 
uncertain and querulous, betrayed his weakness; and 
the men about him, some of them traitors who had 
invited the enemy to India, paid little attention to his 
words. Looking from one to the other in piteous 
appeal, he could see that under the forms of respect 
they scarcely tried to conceal the disdain which filled 

Their road lay across the plain where the battle had 
been, and as the litter was borne along at the slow 
pattering trot of the bearers, the wretched monarch 
saw around him horrible traces of the fight. Dead 
men lay on all sides, their bodies twisted into every 
sort of attitude, or swollen beyond recognition. They 
were all Indians, for the Persians had buried their own 
dead. The stench from the rotting corpses poisoned 
the air. Here and there a wounded man, still alive 
after days of thirst and torment under an Indian sun, 


moaned out a prayer for water, or a wounded horse 
stood with drooping head, patiently waiting for death. 
The Moghul, to do him justice, was not unkindly. He 
gave orders for the burial of the dead, and for help to 
be brought to the wounded. But his people took little 
heed of the order. 

When the Emperor's litter arrived within the lines 
of his own entrenchments, he felt for the moment a 
little less miserable. The Indian army had lost heavily 
in the battle, and afterwards great numbers had 
deserted; but many thousands of brave fighting-men 
still remained, and the Moghul, encouraged by the 
sight of them, was almost tempted to try his fortune 

In that frame of mind he entered his women's quar- 
ters, and called for his chief Queen. She had tried in 
vain to prevent his going as a suppliant to the Persian 
camp. Now she rejoiced at the change which seemed 
to have come over him. 

*Ah, my Lord, she said, *at last you speak like a 
king. You have been deceived by the traitors about 
you, but it is not too late. There are many still faith- 
ful to their salt, and you have lakhs of fighting-men, 
hundreds of thousands. Bring together those whom 
you can trust among your ministers, and tell them now 
that you have resolved to fight. You will see that they 
only want this to give them fresh heart. If you cannot 
attack the Persian dogs in their camp, you can send 
away your women and treasure, and fall back fighting. 
The Persians cannot follow you all over Hindustan. 
They are worn with their long marches, and they will 
grow weaker and weaker as they advance. Without 
your help they cannot find food, and their accursed 
troops will starve. Not one will recross the frontier. 



Act now, to-night. Get your troops ready, and in the 
morning we will leave the entrenchments and march 
for Delhi. For Grod's sake do not delay.' 

The Moghul seemed almost convinced, and she 
thought she had prevailed. He swore that he would 
fight, and vowed vengeance on the traitors who had 
beguiled him. But he could not make up his mind to 
act at once. He was faint for want of food, and he 
longed for the opium to which he had become a slave. 
It would be time enough in the morning, he said. He 
must have rest. 

Then the Queen tried to spur his flagging spirit by 
reproaches and taunts. ' In the morning it will be too 
late. You will sleep till midday with your accursed 
wine and opium, and the Persians may attack at day- 
break. Then your face will be blackened indeed. Will 
you let your wives be carried off by Tartar dogs before 
your eyes ? ' 

The Moghul only grew sullen. Come what might he 
would have his comforting poison, and secure an hour 
or two of peace and f orgetfulness. * I will hear no 
more,' he answered angrily. 'What does a woman 
know of State affairs ? The Persian is nothing but a 
blood-drinking robber, and I have fooled him. He 
thinks I am going to make peace, and will do nothing 
yet. He is afraid to attack. Thousands of his men 
were killed in the fight, and he knows our entrench- 
ments are strong. Though he spoke great words, he 
was frightened. When he saw that I was angry he 
turned white with fear, and his heart became like 
water. I saw it. He was trembling. What is he? 
A dog and son of a dog.' 

The Queen turned away with a gesture of disdain. 
She saw that for the moment she could do no more. 



The ignoble craving was too strong to be resisted. 
The Moghul's heart was as soft as his effeminate limbs. 
Still she would not despair. He had shown some signs 
of spirit, and she hoped against hope that rest and 
sleep might bring him courage. 

It was not to be. Wearied in mind and body the 
Moghul drank deep that night, and when the wine had 
done its work he turned to the treacherous drug which 
was sapping his life. Long after the sun was high he 
lay in his darkened room sleeping a torpid sleep. 
When he woke to consciousness, and the remembrance 
of the day before came back to his clouded brain, he 
turned on his cushions with a groan. At last he sat up 
and called to his people. His eyes were bloodshot, and 
his hands trembled as he held to his lips the cup of wine 
for which he had asked. 

His servants brought him evil news. The Persian 
horsemen were riding far and wide on all sides of his 
camp. They had surprised and destroyed a detach- 
ment of Rajputs who were marching up to join his 
army, and a few wounded fugitives only had escaped 
to spread fear and confusion among the troops within 
the entrenchments. During the night, too, there had 
been many desertions, hundreds of men stealing away 
singly or in companies, under cover of the darkness. 
Grain had gone up to famine prices, even water was 
scarce, and the soldiers were murmuring. 

The news was bad, and as the day wore on it was 
made worse by the Emperor's ministers. The peace 
party, traitors many of them, and mostly men of 
Persian or Tartar families, used his attendants to 
frighten him. Their natural love of exaggeration 
was stimulated by bribes, and as the Emperor was 
always ready, after the manner of the East, to listen to 


any one about him, the stories of the ministers had 
their full effect. 

In truth, the state of things was bad enough. The 
whole army was disheartened by defeat, and by the 
feeling that they had no leader. There were many 
brave men among them, and the Rajput clansmen 
were ready as ever to follow their tribal chiefs to the 
death. But the chiefs were jealous of each other, and 
it needed a strong hand to weld together the clans into 
one fighting whole. 

If the Emperor had taken command in person, and 
appealed to their loyalty, foreigner as he was in blood 
and creed, they would have responded to the call ; but 
the Emperor was hiding his face in his women's 
quarters, and the nominal commander-in-chief was the 
arch-traitor who had planned the invasion. 

Finally, the imagination of the Indian troops, always 
credulous and quick to exaggerate any tales of marvel 
or horror, had been appalled by the stories told round 
their camp-fires. To the comparatively civilised and 
polished Indians, Nadir Shah and his fierce soldiery 
seemed at best wild and savage. Now they were told, 
and half believed, that the Persian King was surrounded 
by supernatural beings, jins and demons with awful 
powers. Cowards who had fled from the field, or men ' 
in the pay of the traitors, described the Tartar spear- 
men as giants mounted on colossal horses, whose 
nostrils spouted fire. It was said that horseman and 
steed alike devoured the bodies of the slain, and that 
even elephants were killed like sheep by one thrust of 
the terrible lances. In vain some of the sturdy Jats 
and Rajputs scoffed at these tales. They sank deep 
into the hearts of the superstitious Indians. Through- 
out the doomed army of the Moghul there was idleness 


and disunion and doubt, and the shadow of a great 

And over against it stood the trained fighting-men 
of Nadir, diverse in nationality, like the Indians, but 
united by confidence in their great leader, hardened by 
years of warfare, and taught by an unbroken series of 
victories to believe themselves invincible. 

It was at best a gloomy prospect that the Moghul 
had to face, and though the Persians made no attack 
in force, the day brought him little comfort. Stung by 
the reproaches of his Queen, and writhing under a sense 
of shame, he tried to find support for his flagging 
courage in the counsels of others. But he shrank from 
the one course which might have saved him. Instead 
of doing what she advised, taking command of the 
army in person, and announcing that he would fight 
to the end, he did the worst that could be done. 
He assembled his council and told them that he had 
three courses open to him. The first was to fight, the 
second to take poison and escape from the miseries 
of the world, the third to accept whatever terms 
Nadir Shah might impose. And though by fits he 
spoke boastfully enough, he let it be seen only too 
clearly that in his heart he inclined to the most shame- 
ful course of all. With such an example before them, 
his councillors did little to help him. One or two good 
soldiers spoke up and urged him to make a push for 
victory. Others remained silent or gave uncertain 
counsel. Others again magnified the dangers and 
difficulties, and showed that they regarded resistance 
as hopeless. The day passed away, and the Moghul 
remained undecided. His last chance had gone. 

For two or three days longer the final decision was 
put off, but there could only be one ending to the long- 



drawn misery. The Queen still implored and upbraided 
by turns, and the wretched monarch still vapoured and 
vacillated ; but day by day the state of the army grew 
worse, day by day the war party grew weaker and 
weaker, day by day the tone of the traitors became 
stronger and more confident. At last, mastered by the 
will of his conqueror, like a bird fascinated by a snake, 
Muhammad Shah stooped to the last depth of dishonour, 
and leaving his army, delivered himself up as a 
prisoner in Nadir's camp. 



During the day of the Durbar, the Shah's Anderun 
had learned with some curiosity, but no great surprise, 
that the Shah had taken to himself another consort. 

The Indian girl had been installed by the Agha Bashi 
in a tent of her own, and two Persian women had been 
appointed to wait upon her. The scanty wardrobe 
with which she had come to the camp was supple- 
mented by costly furs and robes suitable to her new 
dignity. Accustomed to the light and graceful dress 
of her own country, she thought them stiff and un- 
comfortable, but her women insisted upon teaching 
the poor barbarian how a Persian * Khanum,' lady, 
should be clothed, and with a smile at their airs of 
superiority, she submitted. When she watched Nadir 
in his glory from behind her marble screen, she was 
attired as they thought fitting. 

The Agha Bashi answered shortly enough all ques- 
tions about her. But he made it clear that she was 
not to be molested, and the Anderun decided to receive 
her with all outward respect. The Agha Bashi him- 
self showed her nothing but kindness. He would have 
been good to her in any case for his master's sake, but 
he soon began to like her for her own. Though on the 
first night her impetuous action had startled him, he 
saw that she was different from the Shah's other 
women, and before a week was over her beauty and 



gentleness had fairly won his heart. Thenceforth 
the unsexed African was the most devoted of her 

To Sitara herself the week was a week of wonder 
and joy. In a few hours of that starlit Indian night, 
Nadir had made her his, body and soul, and the days 
that followed passed in a golden dream. They were 
lonely enough, for she hardly spoke to any one except 
her maids, but the loneliness troubled her little. The 
Agha Bashi came for a few moments now and then to 
see that all was well, and to give her such advice as 
she needed. He told her among other things that the 
Shah expected his ladies to do their marches on horse- 
back, and one day he brought to the garden in which 
her tent was pitched, a trained Arab stallion equipped 
for the march. She had learned to sit a horse in her 
old Rajput home, and she mounted and rode the little 
Arab with an ease that delighted him. 

' Af rin ! Khanum,' he said. ' Well done ! You ride like 
one of the Shah's spearmen.' 

Through the long afternoons she lay in her tent 
thinking of her kingly lover, or strolled about the 
walled garden, with its rows of plane-trees and rivulets 
of running water. Then the swift eastern darkness 
fell, and the noises of the camp gradually died away, i 
and at last he came again, no longer in his splendour, 
but as she had first seen him, clothed in the plain 
white dress he usually wore. 

At times, with his passionate bantering ways, master- 
ful always but tender and caressing, he made her 
almost forget that he was anything but the strong- 
handed soldier who had stormed her heart. He was 
every inch a king, but he was more — he was every inch 
a man. 


He would have none of her Persian robes. He liked 
to see her wearing the jewels with which he had 
adorned her, but the first time he saw her in her 
new attire, he stood looking at her with a frown. 
* Never wear those things again,' he said. 'You are 
not a lying Persian. Alhemdulillah ! Praise be to God ! 
No Persian is to be trusted. See that you do not 
become like them.' She tossed the stiff garments 
aside with evident relief, and he soon forgot his 

In the intervals of his fiery passion he would lead 
her on to talk of her past life, of her own country and 
her Rajput clansmen, of the Delhi Court, and the men 
and women about the Moghul Emperor. He learned 
from her to look upon the discomfited Indians with 
kindliness. A country which bred such women must 
breed men too. Beaten as they were, he felt they were 
not to be despised. He used to laugh at her joy in the 
humiliation of the hated Moghuls, and loved to draw 
her on till her dark eyes flashed and the blood surged 
into her face at some tale of oppression or indignity to 
her people. In her impetuous womanly wrath she 
seemed to him more beautiful than ever. 

For one short week the heaven of her happiness 
remained without a cloud, and then it was overcast. 
Nadir had begun to reflect. The first rush of his new 
passion was spent, and * love's sad satiety ' was upon 
him. He had been conscious throughout that the 
Indian girl had stirred him as no other had ever done ; 
and the thought had begun to trouble him. Lover 
of women as he was, he had never allowed any woman 
to gain the least influence over his actions ; and 
looking back upon the course of the last few days, it 
came home to him that he had perhaps let himself 



go too far. A chance word of praise from the Agha 
Bashi sent a flash of suspicion through his brain. ' The 
girl is well enough,' he said, * but women are all alike. 
He is a fool who trusts any one of them.' And he 
determined to put a check upon himself. 

So on the evening when the Moghul Emperor came 
as a prisoner to his camp, Sitara waited in vain for 
Nadir to raise the curtain of her tent, and at last she 
learned with a pang at her heart that he had gone to 
see another of his wives. Sooner or later the thing 
must have come to her. She was one of many, 
and could not hope to keep him to herself. Brought 
up in the traditions of the ]|lf!Ml^, she never thought of 
questioning his right to do as he pleased with his own. 
But human nature is the same all the world over. It 
was an Oriental who said ' Love is strong as death ; 
jealousy is cruel as the grave.' And for Sitara that 
night the flames thereof were flames of fire. 

Perhaps if she had known all she would have felt less 

The woman to whose tent Nadir had gone was one 
for whom he had little love, well knowing her to be 
false and mischievous ; but she was Ali Akbar's sister, 
and on that account it was well to humour her, for 
Ali Akbar was a useful servant. Moreover, she could 
be useful herself, for she had much information about 
all that was going on. Like many Persians she was 
intelligent and amusing. She could even read and 
write, an accomplishment very rare among i|i»iifem 
women. The time which Nadir passed with her was 
largely spent in talking over affairs, and this she 
resented, for though she cared nothing about him, it 
hurt her vanity. She would have liked his admiration 
to be warmer. But the Shirazi, as she was generally 


called, from her birthplace, was no longer in her first 
youth, and she had never been beautiful. She had the 
ruddy skin and dark eyes of the Persian, but her 
features were irregular, and the swarthy down upon 
her lip and chin was too strong to be becoming. Her 
thick eyebrows met in the middle. It was a clever, bad- 
tempered face, with some charm in it when she was 
laughing ; but it was not a face to be trusted or loved. 

The lady was childless too. She had prayed at 
many shrines, and more than once she had poured 
rose-water into the mouth of a dead dog on a Wednes- 
day night, but even that had failed. 

When Nadir's takht had been carried into the tent, 
and he had taken his seat upon it, she brought him a 
flask of Shiraz, and a white stoneware goblet. 

She had at various times tried to secure his wavering 
affection by magical spells. Now,' while he drank his 
first cup of wine, she closed her fingers one by one, 
each on a potent word, and when he was not looking 
opened them all together and fired a silent volley at 
him, her cunning eyes watching him closely to see 
whether the charm worked. 

She then disposed herself upon the carpet by his 
side, and began to press and knead his muscular limbs 
in the manner of the East. Under the soothing influ- 
ence of her lithe hands. Nadir settled down into com- 
fortable rest, and she set to work to amuse him with 
the gossip, more or less indecent and malicious, but 
often witty enough, of which she was a mistress. Like 
most of his order he liked gossip, which he found useful 
as well as amusing. Soon he was laughing freely, and 
at times the deep base of his voice rose on the silence 
of the night far beyond the tent in which he lay. The 
night was one of triumph to the Shirazi. 


She longed to get Nadir to speak of the Indian girl, 
but for a time she was afraid. At last, emboldened by 
his apparent good-humour and his careless caresses, 
which she hoped were the result of her new charm, 
she ventured to touch the subject. 

'The camp is full of strange women now,' she said. 
' The last batch of slave girls the Shah distributed to 
those on whom he conferred favours were Kafir girls 
of the Siah Push— the Black Robes. Now that the 
camp is in Hindustan, the girls they are bringing are 
Siah Ru — black faces.' 

Nadir did not answer. The woman stole a sidelong 
look at him, and quickly changed the subject. Nadir 
was a dangerous man to trifle with, and she saw she 
was going too far. 

In fact, the main result of her attempt was the very 
reverse of what she imagined. 

'Jealous,' he said to himself, 'jealous and spiteful 
as usual, like all the Persian women.' And his thoughts 
went back to the passionate, impetuous girl he had 
learned to love. * Siah Ru ! ' he thought. ' She is beauti- 
ful as a dream. By Allah, you little Shaitan, you will 
repent the day if you try to do her evil.' 



Having satisfied his conscience by his visit to the 
Shirazi, Nadir let himself yield again to his inclinations, 
and during the few days that the camp remained 
stationary at Karnal, where he had halted after the 
fight, Sitara had no fresh cause for distress. Night 
after night he came to her tent, unannounced as his 
custom was, lifting the curtain at her doorway and 
walking in without a word. 

One night early in March he came as usual. She had 
been waiting and hoping for his arrival, but he was 
late, and she had almost given him up. Her thoughts 
had gone back over the past week. As he entered she 
was lying on her cushions with her chin resting on her 
hands, and a far-away look in her eyes. His deep 
voice startled her from her dream. 

* What, no " Khush Amadid " — no welcome for me ? ' 
he said, and she sprang to her feet in confusion. But 
as she did so she saw that there was no displeasure in 
his face. 

* Forgive me, my Lord,' she said, * I did not hear.' She 
bent low before him and kissed the strong brown hand 
that was laid on her hair. He raised her with a smile. 
All the welcome a man could need was there in her 

*You are forgetting me already,' he said. *I have 
brought you something by way of remembrance,' and 


he held out to her an ancient seal which had been 
presented to him by a frontier chief. Simple as his 
dress usually was, he had a fondness for precious 
stones. He always wore one or two in his turban, and 
many were brought to him. The seal was beautifully 
carved from a single emerald, and represented a 
woman's figure which bore some resemblance to her. 

*Take it,' he said. *They tell me it belonged to 
Sikander Rumi, Alexander the Great.' 

She made a gesture of refusal. * My Lord,' she said, 

* you have given me too much already. I want nothing 
but your kindness.' 

* It is my wish,' he answered. ' To-morrow we march 
for Delhi, and who knows what may happen ? Inshallah, 
please God, you will never need it, but if at any time 
you want to come to me, send me the stone and you 
shall be received wherever I may be.' 

She looked at him with a sudden fear. * Am I not to 
go with the camp, my Lord ? ' 
Nadir's eyes lit up with a smile. 

* Let your heart be at rest. Where I go, you go, little 
one. But still take it — as a remembrance of Karnal.' 

Sitara took the stone and pressed it to her forehead. 

* I will never be without it — but Inshallah, I will never 
trouble my Lord with petitions.' / 

'That is settled then. Has the Agha Bashi taught 
you to sit a horse ? In the camp women must be able 
to ride.' 

' I can ride. The Agha Bashi says I am like one of 
your spearmen. A Rajput woman does not go in a 
litter like a Moghul lord.' 

Nadir laughed. * Always a hard word for the 
Moghuls. It is not well to despise your countrymen.' 

* They are not my countrymen, my Lord. My people 


hate them. They are Tartars and Persians. They 
have only been in India a little while.' 

' Long enough to get soft. My men are Tartars and 
Persians too. But riding on the march is rough for a 

He went on to speak of the country in front of them, 
and of the people who held it. He listened carefully as 
she described the route, explained where water and 
supplies were to be found, and told him many details 
which he wished to know. 

*You speak like a Mim Bashi, a Commander of a 
Thousand,' he said. * I wish all my people had as much 
sense,' and late into the night he sat talking over the 
coming march, and the great city which was their 

Nevertheless he woke early as his custom was, soon 
after dawn, and left her. Hardly had he done so 
before the stir of preparation began. In the chilly 
morning light the attendants of the Anderun, trained 
by years of campaigning, rapidly packed the mule 
trunks in which the baggage of the ladies was carried, 
and then the mules and ponies were as rapidly loaded 
up. The tents were left standing, as a ' Pish khaneh ' 
or fore camp had gone on in advance. 

The cold was still in the air as Sitara mounted her 
Arab for her first march with the camp, but the sun 
was bright, and she felt in all her young blood the joy 
of living. She rode astride, as did all the women, on a 
soft saddle of padded cloth, richly embroidered; and 
the little chestnut, whose coat shone with the metallic 
glint which one sees only in the East, tossed his head 
proudly in response to her light touch on the gold 
chain which formed his bridle. Horses in Persia are 
mostly grey, and according to a grotesque custom 


which still endures, the Shah's ladies in general rode 
greys with tails dyed crimson or orange. But the 
Agha Bashi had chosen the chestnut carefully for 
Sitara's comfort, and his long pasterns came down at 
each step, giving him the easy walk which makes such 
a difference on a march. 

Nadir was a soldier who knew his business, and was 
not to be caught off his guard. In spite of the sub- 
mission of the Moghul there was no sign of carelessness 
about the order of advance. His spearmen had for 
days been scouring the country in his front to a 
distance of sixty or eighty miles, and all seemed secure ; 
but the main body was ready for anything that might 

The level plain, which stretched away in all directions 
as far as the eye could see, allowed the army to march 
on a broad front, and the whole of his great force was 
well closed up. 

Twenty thousand of the best horsemen in the army 
covered its front, and immediately behind them rode 
Nadir himself at the head of his Guards, the 'Six 
Thousand,' who had been mounted for the march. In 
rear of the Shah, on the left of the great array, came 
the 'Kurk,' the Shah's women, escorted by armed 
eunuchs, and surrounded at a distance by several 
thousand musketeers, who cleared the way for them, 
killing or driving off any man found in their line of 
advance. To the right of the Kurk came the Moghul 
Emperor in his litter, with a few of his own people, in 
the centre of a great body of Kizlbash horse. On his 
right, again, were the principal Moghul chiefs and their 
retinues, disposed in separate parties some hundred 
yards apart. Between them rode Kizlbash horsemen, 
to prevent their joining and keep them on their proper 


course. In rear of the Kurk and the Indians came the 
main body of Nadir's troops, and then the artillery and 
baggage protected by a strong rear-guard. To right 
and left marched flanking parties of horse. 

In spite of its great numbers, the Persian force, 
which was entirely mounted, advanced at a fair pace 
across the open plain ; and Sitara, riding in the Kurk 
by the side of the Agha Bashi, enjoyed the life and 
grandeur of the scene. At first, as the Kurk crossed 
the battlefield of the week before, she was horrified by 
the things she saw about her, and she thought with a 
pang at her heart that among the troops of the Moghul 
were some of her own countrymen. At times, too, she 
came upon Indian villages which showed pitiable marks 
of the savage treatment dealt out by the Kizlbash 
horsemen who had cleared the front of the Kurk. But 
India was a continent, not a nation ; and she had 
generations of fighting blood in her veins ; and her 
pride in her soldier-king did much to soothe thB feelings 
of indignation and sorrow with which these things 
oppressed her. 

During the day's march, when the Kurk had re- 
mounted after the midday meal, a cloud of dust moving 
rapidly towards them from the front attracted her 
notice. As it approached there broke through it the 
glitter of lance points, and the Agha Bashi, who had 
pulled up his horse, with his hand over his eyes, called 
out, ' The Shah is coming, the Shah.' A moment later 
Nadir galloped up to the party of women. He was 
riding as usual a big Turkoman thoroughbred, over 
sixteen hands in height, which seemed to know it 
carried a king. Its long easy stride kept the small 
Arabs of the escort racing behind it. As Nadir reined 
it in, its nostrils flashed crimson in the sunlight, and 


a network of veins stood out upon the delicate skin. 
Nadir sat it with the ease of constant habit, his tall 
figure upright, his left hand hardly seeming to close on 
the chain bridle, and his right, which held his axe, 
resting loosely on his thigh. He carried no other 
weapon, and his dress was plain, worn for comfort on 
the march rather than show. 

He seemed in the best of health and spirits. It was 
often noticed that when halting in a town or a fixed 
camp he was apt to become restless and impatient. 
His nomad blood was calling. Directly he was in the 
field again his restlessness vanished, and gave place to 
content. So it seemed now. The march had brought 
a bright colour to his face, and a happy smile to his 

The Agha Bashi had dismounted and stood at his 
stirrup. Nadir rested his axe blade lightly on the 
negro's shoulder in his frank soldierly way, and spoke 
a few cheery words inquiring if all was well with the 
Kurk. The Agha Bashi laid his hand on his heart. 
' By the Shah's favour. All is well.' Nadir turned to 
the Shirazi, who was well to the front, with her veil 
up, and a smile of welcome in her crafty eyes. *Ah, 
Khanum,' he said with a laugh, 'I see you are none 
the worse for the ride. You are an old soldier, always 
ready, as hard as one of my Kizlbash.' The Shiraz^ 
flushed slightly. ' Those who follow the Shah's stirrup 
have need to be hard,' she said. 'There is little time 
for rest between the Shah's victories.' 

Nadir's eyes wandered over the party to where Sitara 
was sitting on her horse, a few paces to the rear. He 
knew her in spite of her veil, and rode up to her. * Tired, 
little one ? ' he said. ' No, my Lord.' She raised her veil. 
' The horse is very easy, and now ... I have seen you.' 



Nadir smiled. *Khuda Hafiz—God protect you— I 
will come to-night.' 

He turned away quickly. * Mount, Agha Bashi,' he 
said. * We must push on. We have another league or 
two to ride. Khuda Hafiz,' and he touched the Turko- 
man behind the shoulder with the point of his stirrup, 
and was gone in a cloud of dust. 

And the Shirazi cursed him under her breath. * Sag 
zadeh,' she muttered. ' Dog-born and mannerless. May 
Shaitan take you and your black slave girl ! ' 




So the Persian army inarched on for a week, until at 
last the domes and minars of Delhi rose from the plain. 
The Shah's own camp was pitched at some distance 
from the city, among the trees and running water of a 
beautiful garden, and'there on the night of their arrival 
Nadir came as usual to Sitara's tent. 

He was in high spirits that night, for all had gone 
well on the line of march, and the great capital of the 
Moghuls, the goal of his ambition, lay defenceless before 

Sitara received him with joy in her eyes and words 
of proud congratulation. 

' My Lord must be content,' she said after Nadir had 
settled himself on his takht. * He has conquered the 
whole world now.' 

Nadir had begun to play, as he had a trick of doing, 
with a great blue sapphire he always carried about him. 

* Not all the world yet,' he said with a smile, trying to 
balance the stone on the tip of his axe. * The Lesghian 
robbers of the Caucasus have been giving trouble. 
They believe I cannot reach them in their mountains. 
And the Kings of Bokhara and Khiva are sending 
foolish answers to my messages, as the Moghul did. 
They think they are safe behind the Turkoman steppes. 
He has learnt that my arm is long, and by Allah they 
shall learn it too.' 


* My Lord is thinking of fresh conquests already ? * 

* Why not ? While any country remains to be con- 
quered, what I have done is nothing.' 

' My Lord, it is so much. What other King of Iran has 
been as great ? ' 

^ Rdst ast It is true. By the favour of God I 
have taught these Persian dogs what a King of Iran 
should be.' 

' My Lord, forgive me if I am too bold. Why do you 
always speak with contempt of the Persians ? Are 
they not the creatures of God, and your people ? ' 

Nadir laughed. ' The creatures of God. Bale. Yes. 
God is great. It has pleased Him to fill the world with 
dogs and asses. What am I that I should say a word ? 
But the Persians are not my people. I am a Turko- 

*But you are Shah of Iran, and there are many 
Kizlbash in the King's army. Why do you hate them ? ' 

'Why should I not hate them?' A look of rage 
came into his eyes and his face flushed. 

* Listen, and I will tell you. And once you have heard, 
never speak of it again.' 

Nadir's face alarmed her. 'Tell me nothing,' she 
said hastily. * I should not have spoken as I have. 
I want to hear nothing that it angers my Lord to 

Nadir paused and began thinking back. The look of 
anger faded from his face. * Listen, and I will tell you 
all from the beginning, as you told me. 

* My father was a chief of the Af shar, and held the 
strong place at Kelat. When he died I was a child, and 
his brother, upon whose name be curses, seized the fort 
and took my place in the tribe. He betrayed me to 
the Turkomans of the steppes, the man-sellers, and 



for years I was a prisoner among the black tents in 
the desert. When I became a juwan, a young man, I 
escaped from the man-sellers and claimed the chief ship, 
which was my right, but he was faithless, and I was 
driven out from among my people.' 

* Let my Lord forget those days. He has conquered 
the world now.' 

*But I cannot forget. I was driven out with my 
brother Ibrahim, and being hungry we went to Meshed 
and took service with the Persian Governor. Soon I 
was given a troop of horse.' 

' Were they Persians ? ' 

'They were men from the north who spoke Turki, 
which is the language of men. We had many fights 
with the man-sellers, who used to make raids into 
Persian territory and carry off men and women and 
plunder. The Persians were in deadly fear of them. 
You have heard of the man-sellers ? ' 

* Yes, my Lord. They were a terrible enemy, it is 
said, and had no pity.' 

*They were only robbers, and never fought if they 
could help it, but they had good horses, and rode fifty 
or sixty miles in a day, and the Persians were never 
ready for them. I paid my men well and they became 
faithful, and soon they learnt not to be afraid of the 
man-sellers. We killed many of them, and I was made 
Mim Bashi, Commander of a Thousand.' 
' Then the Persians had peace and were grateful ? ' 
' Listen, and you will know how grateful they were. 
After some time the man-sellers saw that they could 
no longer raid in small parties, and that Khurasan was 
being lost to them, so they assembled all their tribes 
and suddenly crossed the border with many thousand 


* And you fell upon them and scattered them ? ' 
*The Governor had not many troops, and did not 

know what to do, for the man-sellers were ravaging 
the country on all sides. He called a council of his 
officers, but they were Persians from the Court, like 
himself, and their livers had turned to water. They 
said it would be folly for him to leave the city un- 
guarded, and that the country-people must show 
courage and defend themselves.' 

* Cowards ! ' 

*Yes. Cowards as always. Then I spoke to them. 
I was only a Mim Bashi, and had no right to speak in 
the council, but I was angry, and I saw that for a 
brave man the door of opportunity was open.' 

* Af rin ! And you spoke bold words ? ' 

* I said the Turkomans were only robbers, and that if 
the Governor would give me command of five thousand 
men I would clear the country of them. The Persian 
officers objected, and said that if the troops moved out 
they would be eaten up, and the city would fall. But 
the Governor was frightened. He knew that if he did 
nothing he would be recalled by the Shah and would 
lose his head, so he listened to me and gave me the 
command, and promised me that if I were successful I 
should be made Deputy Governor of Khurasan. 

* Then I made arrangements for the security of the 
city and marched out suddenly with my own men and 
some " tuf angchis," musketeers. The man-sellers came 
on and met me, for they thought we were afraid, but 
many of their horsemen were scattered over the 
country, pillaging, and their chief had only six or 
seven thousand men together. They surrounded us, 
and the tufangchis were afraid. Then I spoke to them. 
I said, " Where can you run ? For a man on foot 



surrounded by horsemen the road of flight is the road 
to Jehannum — Hell." When a Persian officer wept and 
reproached me, I killed him — with this, and I said I 
would kill any other who turned his face. My own 
men laughed out loud. After that the tuf angchis stood 
and fired because they were afraid of me, and the 
Turkomans were beaten off. Then I attacked with the 
horsemen. I killed the chief of the man -sellers, and 
thousands more were sent to Hell by the juwdns and 
the country-people. Soon all the province was cleared 
of the man-sellers, and I returned to Meshed. It was 
my first great victory.' 

* Then you became Deputy Governor ? ' 

' Then I reminded the Governor of his promise, but 
the danger was over, and he began to delay, using fair 
words like a Persian, and doing nothing. The Persian 
officers whose faces I had blackened were all speaking 
against me, and the Governor feared they would do him 
harm at Court. At last, when I had eaten much wrath, 
I heard that a young Persian lord had been given the 
place, and that I was to have nothing. Then I became 
mad and spoke angrily in Durbar, saying that the 
Governor was faithless.' 

Nadir stopped speaking, and the look of rage came 
over his face again. His fingers closed fiercely on the , 
handle of his axe. 

* Great God ! ' he broke out, ' that I should live to say 
it. He gave an order, and I was seized by the guards. 
I fought and nearly broke through, but they were 
many, and I was overpowered. Then they threw me on 
the ground and bound me to the " felek," the bastinado 
pole, and I was beaten on the feet till I was senseless.' 

The girl sprang up with blazing eyes, her hands 
clenched, and her whole body quivering with fury. 


* They dared ! they dared ! ' she cried. * Oh the cowards, 
the faithless cowards ! ' 

She fell on her knees, covering Nadir's feet with her 

'It is nothing, little one,' he said. 'It was many 
years ago, and by God I have paid my debts. Never 
think of it again. But you know now why I hate the 

' I shall always hate them, always, always, while I 
have breath in my body.' 

Nadir laughed softly. 'You will do well, for they 
are dogs and sons of dogs ; but it is long ago. Now 
forget it.' 

Then he told her the rest of his story. How after 
his disgrace he had returned to his people at Kelat, 
and made another attempt to claim his rights, but in 
vain. * So,' he said, * I was driven out, with my brother 
Ibrahim and one or two more. We were hungry, and 
in the end we decided to live on the Persians by 
striking the road. It was a poor life after commanding 
an army, but what could we do ? 

' One day we heard that a caravan was leaving 
Meshed, and though we were very few, five or so, we 
agreed that we would attack them at night, and we 
hid ourselves among the rocks near a " tangi," a narrow 
place in the hills through which the road passed.' 

* Had the caravan no escort ? ' 

*Yes, but only a score of tufangchis, and we knew 
what sort of things tufangchis are.' 

* Five to twenty ! And then ? ' 

' I was leader of the party, and I gave orders that all 
should get some sleep, for we. were weary with a long 
march. We were to watch by turns, one at a time, and 
the man on watch was to wake the rest when he heard 


the mule bells. In the night one could hear them a 
mile away.' 

Nadir stopped and hesitated. 

' In India do your gods speak to men in dreams and 
tell them what is coming ? ' 

* I have heard men tell strange tales of things made 
known in dreams.' 

'Well, Ibrahim was to watch first, and I lay down 
and went to sleep. Then a messenger came and stood 
by me and told me to follow him, and I got up and 

' Who was he ? ' 

' God knows, but he said that the holy Ali had sent 
for me.' 

* The holy Ali, whom the Persians call the Friend of 

* Yes. The messenger walked away across the plain, 
and I followed, until we came to a tree, and under it 
Ali was sitting, with a sword in his lap.' 

' How did you know it was Ali ? ' 

* I knew it. He said, " You are Nadir of the Af shar. 
God has called you to save my people, who are scattered 
like sheep without a shepherd. You are his sheep-dog 
to watch over them. If you are faithful He will make 
you great, and you will be ruler of Iran." Then he 
gave me a sword.' 

' What did you say, my Lord ? ' 

* I asked how I was to know that the vision was true, 
and Ali answered that he would give me a sign. He 
said that I was waiting to hear the bells of a "kafila," 
and that when Ibrahim woke me I was to restrain my 
people and let the kafila pass without attacking. If I 
had faith and did so, I should see within a few hours 
another kafila, much larger and richer than the first. 


I was to attack this, and I would get much gold. Then 
I was to go on and become great.' 
' And did you believe his words ? ' 

' Yes. When Ibrahim woke me I told him of All's 
order. We woke the other men, lest they should be 
surprised by the caravan and do something foolish. 
They were angry at being held back, and began to 
murmur, but I had this by me, and I said I would kill 
any man who did not obey.' 

Sitara laughed. *As always,' she said. *And you 
persuaded them, my Lord ? ' 

*Yes, I persuaded them, and they remained quiet. 
Then after a few hours the second kafila came. It 
was large, and there were many tufangchis, but I 
had faith in the promise. We attacked suddenly with 
shouts, like the yells of the man-sellers, and the 
tufangchis fled without firing a shot. I heard after- 
wards that they ran all the way to Meshed. On the 
road, by the favour of God, they met a Persian who 
had been a slave among the Turkomans and had escaped 
as I did. He was dressed like a Turkoman, so they 
killed him and took his head to the Governor, with his 
horse. They said they had been attacked by a thousand 
men of the man-sellers, and had fought all day, killing 
many, among others the chief.' 
* Cowards and liars ! ' 

*Aye, cowards and liars as always. Were they not 
Persians ? But the Governor said they had fought like 
Rustems, and he made the merchants in Meshed sub- 
scribe a large sum to reward them. But of course he 
ate the money himself. When the tufangchis came to 
his Durbar to get a present he was angry and gave 
them the felek. So they got what they deserved. 
Alhemdulillah ! Praise be to God ! ' 


* And afterwards, my Lord ? ' 

' Afterwards, by the help of God and the holy Ali, I 
prospered greatly. I struck many caravans, and got 
money to pay more men, and soon I had a large band 
and did what I pleased.' 

* Did not the Governor send troops against you ? ' 

* Yes, often, but I cut up some of their parties, and 
when they were too strong I kept out of their way. 
The country-people hated the troops, who always robbed 
and ill-treated them. I was always kind to them, so 
they were friendly to me, and with their help it was 
easy to make fools of the troops.' 

' But how did you get the Kingdom ? ' 

'The Shah was in great misery. The Afghans had 
invaded the country and taken Ispahan. The Turks 
too had come across the border, and the Russians 
had taken Gilan and the silk country. Nothing was 
left but a few districts in the mountains. The Shah 
was a fool and a drunkard, thinking of nothing but 
wine and women. He was hiding in the jungles of 

'But what could you do with a handful of road 
strikers ? ' 

' When I was strong enough I went back to Kelat, 
and killed my uncle, and took possession of the fortress. 
Then I gathered more men, and soon I was master of a 
large district.' 

* When was it, my Lord ? ' 

' Ten or twelve years ago. At last, knowing the Shah 
had hardly any troops left, I offered my services to him 
if he would grant me a full pardon. He agreed, and I 
joined him.' 

' And you gained his favour ? ' 

'Yes. I showed him that his general had been 


cheating him and not paying the troops, who were 
discontented and useless. Though he was a fool he 
saw that nay troops were good because they were well 
paid. So he made me his Commander-in-Chief. 

* Still you had little strength against Turks and 
Afghans and Russians ? ' 

*At first, but I gathered strength quickly. The 
Afghans were very few. They had taken Ispahan 
only because the Persians were cowards and would 
not fight. I defeated one of their detachments and 
then another, and after each victory men came to 
take service with me. Soon they came in thousands, 
good men from the north, Uzbegs and Turkomans, and 
the Afghans themselves joined me when I had beaten 
them. Even some of the Persians learned to fight when 
they found they were well paid.' 

* I shall always hate them.' 

* You do well, little one. At the best they are vain 
and faithless. But I made them of some use. I got 
some European officers, who drilled them after the 
western fashion, till a thousand moved like one. Then 
I taught them to attack in silence, without any of 
their silly shooting and shouting. It astonished the 
enemy, and gave the Persians confidence, till they 
thought they were brave men. I had to kill some of 
them first — with this. But they learnt. They are 
not without understanding. When I had a great 
army well armed and disciplined, I fought the Turks. 
They were brave, and made me eat a defeat. I lost 
thousands of men. But more kept coming, and I 
won many battles. At last I drove out the Turks 

* Af rin I And then you took the Kingdom ? ' 

* First I made ready to attack the Russians in GiMn, 


but they were afraid, and agreed to give up the provinces 
they had taken. Then all Iran was free.' 
' When was that, my Lord ? ' 

* It was only three years ago. I had been making war 
without ceasing for seven years.' 

* It was not a long time to do so much. No one else 
in the world could have done it. There has never been 
such a conqueror.' 

* I am nothing, but God is great. Then he put into 
my hands the reins of government. The people had 
seen that the Shah was a fool and worse than a 
fool, and had brought the country to ruin, so he had 
been deposed. The nobles and great men all met to- 
gether and asked me to rule over the Kingdom, 
and seeing that it was the will of God, I accepted.' 

Nadir was silent for a minute, and a grim smile came 
over his face. 

' It was the will of Allah,' he said, * and all the great 
men and troops agreed. The only people to give any 
trouble were the mullas, and I taught them not to 
meddle in such matters.' 

' The mullas ? What had they to do with it ? ' 

* Nothing, but they were heretics — Shias — like all these 
dogs of Persians, and when I told them to compose their 
differences with the Sunnis and make one religion, they 
drew their heads from the collar of obedience. The 
MuUa Bashi, the head priest, was imprudent and spoke 
foolish words.' 

' What did you do, my Lord ? Priests are always self- 
willed, and they are strong.' 

* The MuUa Bashi received pardon from God.' 

* You punished him with death ? ' 

* He was delivered from the miseries of this perishable 


* After that I assembled the other muUas and asked 
them what they did with the revenues of the Faith. 
They said the money was spent according to ancient 
custom in salaries for priests, and in keeping up colleges 
and mosques, in which prayers were continually offered 
for the success of the Shah and the prosperity of the 

*I told them it was as clear as the sun that their 
prayers had not been heard, since the country had 
been going to ruin for fifty years, until God's victorious 
instruments came to its relief, and I explained that 
these poor priests of God, the Kizlbash, were in want. 
So I took the Church revenues for the payment of the 

Sitara laughed. 

' Were they not very angry ? ' 

' Chira ? Why not ? And they tried to do '* badi," to 
make mischief, but the soldiers mocked at them. 

*Then I told the people they could do what they 
pleased, but that I had not much occasion for muUas, 
and would not tax my poor subjects to support them. 
Then the people mocked also. They do not love mullas 
— or taxes. 

* After that the mullas were quiet. They hate me, of 
course, but what can they do ? ' 

'Inshallah! they can do nothing. And since then 
you have won many victories ? ' 

* God is great. Some of the Afghans raised the head 
of rebellion, and it became necessary for me to take 
Kandahar and Kabul. Then I saw that the reins of 
power had fallen from the hands of the Moghul. 
The infidels of India had beaten his armies and 
disgraced him, and as he was a Turkoman too and 
a Mussulman, I offered for the sake of Islam to 



come and drive them away. His own Ministers had 
written me letters inviting me to come. But mis- 
understanding my object he returned foolish answers, 
and would not send any money to pay my troops, who 
were ready to help him. Also his people killed one of 
my envoys.' 

'I have heard that he was killed by some rebel 

* God knows. Kings should not let their people rebel 
and bring a bad name upon them. He has acted like a 
fool, and now he has seen the consequences.' 

*My Lord, it is all wonderful. There has never 
been any conqueror like you, never in the world. 
And you did it all with your own hand, from the 

* Bale. Yes. It is easy to be a king — unless a man is 
a fool like the Moghul. What is difficult is to become a 

Nadir ceased speaking. He sat for a time in silence, 
thinking over the past, with a quiet pride in his eyes. 
Then his look grew harder and more concentrated. The 
strong, thick underlip tightened up. India had still to 
be conquered, and the kingdoms of Tartary, and per- 
haps — God willing — the empire of Rum — Constanti- 
nople—Why not that ? And more ? 



While Nadir was telling Sitara the story of his life, 
another conversation was going on not far from the 
spot, a conversation of which she was the subject. 

The Shirazi had seen during the march, with anger 
and mortification, that Nadir's visit to her had done 
nothing to turn him from the Indian girl. On the 
night of their arrival her women brought her word 
that he was again in Sitara's tent. 

The Shirazi cursed them both with the eloquence 
which characterised her. Having done so she got leave 
from the Agha Bashi to visit her brother, and putting 
on the long cloak and veil which made all Persian 
women appear alike, she walked over to his quarters. 
Ali Akbar had had a hard day's work with a crowd of 
office-seekers, but by dint of vague promises, backed 
by his merry talk and charming manners, he had got 
rid of them at last. After that he had supped heartily 
in his Anderun. When the Shirazi arrived at the door 
of his tent he was lying on his cushions in comfort, his 
coat unfastened to aid digestion, and the stem of his 
kalian in his hand. He had been drinking freely, and 
a flask of Shiraz was on the carpet beside him. As 
she stood at the doorway she heard his loud voice 
and jovial laugh, which stopped suddenly when she 
sent in her name. 

To tell the truth, he was not greatly pleased at her 



arrival, for he had been looking forward to a pleasant 
evening, and he knew from experience that her sharp 
tongue was likely to disturb his peace. But he was 
not an unkindly man, and she was useful to him, so 
with a sigh of resignation he told his servants to admit 

She came in, and tossing aside her veil and cloak, 
disposed herself on the cushions in front of him. Her 
first words showed him that his fears were well 
founded. She pushed aside irritably the cup of wine 
he offered her. ' This is no time for drinking,' she said, 
with a look of contempt at his flushed face. ' Do you 
not see what dust has fallen on our heads ? While you 
are soaking your brain with wine, the Shah is shut up 
again with that accursed black girl.' 

Ali Akbar moved uneasily on his cushions. *What 
does it matter, my sister?' he said. 'Let the Shah 
amuse himself. It will not last long.' 

She made a gesture of impatience. ' Do you think 
I should trouble myself if it were only that? He is 
nothing but a Turkoman robber, and a dirty slave 
girl is good enough for him. But this is another 

Ali Akbar looked round uneasily and held up his 
hand. 'Speak lower,' he said. 'Some one might 

' What do I care ? Cannot you understand ? This 
time it is not one of the old fool's passing fancies. The 
girl has bewitched him with her Indian sorcery. For 
weeks they have been like Leila and Majniin. Is she 
to become the Banu, the chief Queen, and make us all 
eat dirt? Who knows what mischief she may do ? ' 

' She is not likely to do badi. One of her women 
is in my pay. She says the Indian is as simple as 



a child, and more in love with the Shah than he 
is with her. He will soon tire of her, and she will be 

' Your woman is a fool. These black Indians are full 
of shaitani — devilment. I tell you she has been sent 
by the Moghul to bewitch the Shah. How else but 
through sorcery could she have made a fool of him as 
she has ? A black slave girl as ugly as the ghoul of the 

Ali Akbar smiled a rather mischievous smile. * She 
is not ugly. I have seen her. She is young and 
beautiful, as straight as a cypress, with eyes like a deer. 
What need has she of sorcery? That is all pooch — 

The Shirazi's temper rose. * Young and beautiful is 
she ? And I am old and ugly ; that is what you mean. 
But all do not think as you do. Praise be to God! 
You will see who wins in the end. You will see.' 

Ali Akbar sighed wearily. * For God's sake leave the 
girl alone. The Shah has never let a woman get the 
mastery over him, not even you. What harm can 
she do ? ' 

*Are you wholly without understanding that you 
cannot see ? Of course it is nothing to you that she 
should make me eat dirt. But if my face is blackened 
so is yours. Already your market is lessening. You 
have many enemies, and they are laughing at your 

* Because the Shah takes a new slave girl, as he has 
done a thousand times ! Soon he will want money for 
the troops, and will come to me, and who will laugh 

* Oh ! my brother, truly wisdom will die with you. 
Is he not getting camel loads of gold and silver from 


these idol worshippers? He will soon want no more 
money, and then how will you keep your place ? ' 

That arrow was well shot. Ali Akbar's face grew 

' It will not last for ever,' he said ; but the Shirazi 
saw that she had touched him. 

* Long enough to make him think he does not need 
you, and you have enemies. The Agha Bashi hates 
you, and he and the Indian girl are like two almonds 
in one shell. He will do you badi.' 

Ali Akbar knew the Agha Bashi did not love him. 
The negro was too faithful to Nadir. He distrusted 
both the brother and sister, whose feelings towards 
his master he more than suspected. 

Ali Akbar moved uneasily on his seat. * Holy Allah,' 
he said, ' what can the black eunuch do to me ? He is 
half a man at best.' 

' He has power to do evil. Has not the wise man 
said, "Despise a small enemy — leave a little fire un- 
heeded." And he is not a small enemy. He is always 
at the Shah's ear.' 

Ali Akbar caught at the quotation. Brother and 
sister were both vain of their learning. * Yes,' he 
answered, 'and did not the wise man say also, "To 
kindle a fire between two persons and be burnt in it 
oneself is not wisdom." ' 

But he was shaken. There came to him suddenly 
the remembrance of the night when he had seen 
Sitara draw her dagger. He had not distinguished 
himself then, and he recalled the look of contempt on 
her face. It was not a pleasant recollection. 

His sister saw that her words had had their effect, 
and she pressed her advantage, now with stinging 
shafts of contempt and ridicule, now with appeals to 


his interest or his affection, for he was in a way fond 
of her. Gradually her more energetic nature, and 
keener feeling, prevailed over his indolence and 
caution. Before she left him he had promised to help 
her against the woman she hated. For the present it 
was agreed that they could do nothing, but he would 
watch his opportunity, and strike when he saw a 
chance. The chance was sure to come, and when it 
came, he would use it. 

The Shirazi went at last, well pleased with her 
evening's work. She put on her cloak and veil again, 
and said good-bye. 

* Where are you going now ? ' Ali Akbar said. 

* Not to the Shah,' she answered. She was going to 
see one of the Persian officers of the Guard, with whom 
she was on friendly terms. Her brother knew about it, 
but had made no attempt to interfere. The man was a 
useful recruit to secure for his party, and the brother 
and sister understood one another. They had no 
scruples in such matters. 

Ali Akbar shrugged his shoulders. * Please yourself,' 
he said with a short laugh, ' but take care. The Shah 
is not a man to show mercy.' 

* Trust me,' she answered. * There is no danger ' ; and 
she went out with a confident air. Her vanity always 
led her to think she was more than a match for any 
one she chose to deceive. 

Ali Akbar returned to his wine cups, but they 
brought him little peace of mind, and late into the 
night he sat pondering over his sister's words. 

Yes, he decided at last, she was right. She was 
jealous and spiteful, but she was right— the girl was 
not of their kind. Her influence could never be on 
their side, and it might grow too strong for them. 



Any man, even Nadir, might become a fool about a 
woman. She must, if possible, be got out of their 

And so about Sitara's innocent head the plot began 
to weave. 



In the bright sunlight of a fine spring morning Nadir 
Shah made his triumphal entry into the historic capital 
of the Moghul Empire. 

The captive Emperor and his troops, all who had not 
disbanded at Karnal, or deserted on the way, had been 
brought back to Delhi in the train of the conqueror. 
The Moghul had accepted the terms imposed upon him. 
He had surrendered his guns, his treasury, his elephants 
and horses, all the appanage of his power and state. 
A train of two hundred selected cannon was on its way 
to Persia, under charge of a body of Kizlbash horse, 
to show the full extent of the victory. The Moghul 
officials were busily collecting the enormous war 
indemnity which Nadir had demanded. 

As Sitara had told Nadir, there were many brave men 
among the Indian soldiery. They burned with indigna- 
tion at the disgrace of their arms, and at the savage 
contempt with which they were treated by the Per- 
sians, but what could they do ? Their orders were to 
submit as their Emperor had submitted. Sadly and 
silently they endured the insults heaped upon them by 
the barbarians whom they loathed and despised. 

Nevertheless, in spite of the submission of the 
Indian Emperor and his people, Nadir was too 
good a soldier to neglect any precautions. He knew 
that the great city was full of armed men — dis- 



banded soldiery, the retainers of the nobles, the 
hangers-on of a dissolute Court. His troops would be 
at a disadvantage in the narrow streets, and any check 
to his arms at the capital might result in a flame of 
revolt all over the country. It behoved him to be 

The Moghul Emperor, therefore, was sent on in 
advance to occupy the fort, and to make all prepara- 
tions for a peaceful entry on the part of his conqueror. 
He issued orders for all shops and houses to be shut 
up, and for the population of the city to remain at 
home. Backed by the fears of the inhabitants, who 
trembled at the sight of a Persian, his orders were 
obeyed, and when Nadir marched in with his Kurk, 
escorted by twenty thousand horsemen, the city 
seemed to be deserted. 

Sitara, riding by the side of the Agha Bashi, was 
saddened by the change which had come over the 
capital since she had left it a few weeks before. A 
mournful silence brooded over the streets she had 
always seen swarming with noisy life. Not a sound 
was to be heard except the trampling of the cavalry, 
the clatter of their accoutrements, and an occasional 
word of command. The balconies and flat roofs, which 
used to be crowded with eager faces whenever any- 
thing was to be seen, were without a single occupant. 
She knew that thousands of men and women and 
children were gazing in the fascination of mingled 
curiosity and fear from behind every screen, and 
through every chink in the closed shutters, but they 
gazed unseen. 

Nadir and his women were lodged by the Moghul 
Emperor in the * Palace of Joy ' within the fort. The 
troops camped all round the lofty walls. Their quarters 


had been carefully marked out for them in advance, 
and, trained by years of war, they moved into their 
lines in perfect order. 

The fort and palace of Delhi were in the hands of the 
Persian conqueror; and outside the city, ready to move 
forward at any moment, lay the great army which had 
struck down the Empire of the Moghuls. Their stand- 
ards, and the glitter of their arms, were plainly visible 
to the northward all along the historic ridge which 
dominated the city ; and the plain beyond was full, as 
far as the eye could see, of tents and guns and horse- 

The Moghul Emperor had prepared a feast for Nadir 
and his followers in the Palace of Joy, and the two 
monarchs spent the afternoon together, making all 
arrangements for the future control of the country. 
In the course of the day, at the request of the Moghul, 
Nadir issued a proclamation to his troops forbidding 
in the severest terms any injury or insult to the in- 
habitants, and ordering his 'Nasakchis,' or executioners, 
* to spare no punishment, such as cutting ofP ears and 
noses, and bambooing to death' any soldier who 

The troops, knowing well that Nadir never threatened 
in vain, were careful to avoid offence, and the night 
passed quietly. 

While the Kings were together their Rajput wives 
had come together too. Nothing is long a secret in an 
oriental Court, and it had become known that the 
former dependant of the Rahtor Queen was now the 
favourite wife of the Persian conqueror. 

It was a strange meeting. The two women had 
parted only a few weeks before, one still a Queen in 
spite of her lord's defeat and humiliation, the other a 



poor, dishonoured girl, handed over with others to 
become a slave in the Persian camp. Now the name- 
less girl shared the proudest throne in Asia, and her 
former mistress came to her as a suppliant, sent by the 
craven Emperor to entreat that she would use her 
influence to soften the Shah's heart towards his beaten 

Sitara received the unhappy Queen with every mark 
of respect that she had been accustomed to show in the 
past. She had passionately resented the order which 
handed her over, in spite of her entreaties, to shame 
and lifelong exile. But now in the flush of her happy 
love all resentment had vanished, and to her the 
Rahtor Queen was still the representative of her race 
and country. She promised to do whatever she could, 
and sent her old mistress away full of gratitude. 

That night Sitara told Nadir all that had passed be- 
tween them. ' My Lord,' she said, ' I know that I am 
nothing. It is not for me to ask favours of the Shah ; 
and God knows I have no love for the Moghuls. But 
I am a Rajputni, and my Lord is merciful. He will for- 
give my presumption if I speak for the people of Hind.' 

Nadir showed no displeasure. It rather gratified him 
to feel how high he had raised her. 

' You have become very great all at once,' he answered 
with a smile. *Very great and powerful that the 
Moghul's Queen should come and present petitions to 
you. But let your heart be at rest. You have done no 
wrong. I wish to show the people of Hind nothing 
but kindness if they behave properly. Already I have 
given orders that they shall not be molested in any 
way'; and he told her of the proclamation he had 

She thanked him, and he laughed a rather grim 


laugh. * There is one who will remember my orders, 
and take care that they are made known to all,' he 
said. 'I entrusted that to a nephew of Ali Akbar, 
who recommended him for service. Like all these 
accursed Persians he is full of empty talk, a nut with- 
out a kernel. When I gave him his orders he thought 
his head was as high as the skies, and began to make 
protestations after their manner. So I told the guards 
to show him the felek, and make him eat a few 

* Why, my Lord ? ' Sitara said ; * what had he done ? ' 

' He was talking too much, and not listening to what 
I said. Men who are given service should listen and 
not talk. It will do him good and make him re- 

Sitara thought the measure a little hard. She did 
not say so, but he read her silence. 

* It does them good,' Nadir said : ' with them it is all 
words.' He laughed again. ' Once a fool stopped me 
as I was riding, and said he had a petition. Then he 
read me one of their silly poems, full of flattery and 
lies. It ended with a verse saying his bosom was torn 
with the nails of affliction, and he had nothing to eat. 
I ordered him to eat sticks for delaying me, and he has 
done useful service since.' 

Sitara laughed too. Her remembrance of Nadir's 
own story was still too vivid to let her feel much sym- 
pathy for any Persian who became acquainted with 
the felek. But, born of watchful love, an uneasy feel- 
ing came to her that Nadir's form of humour might 
end by becoming dangerous to him, and she ventured 
to say something of the kind. 

* My Lord, forgive me,' she said ; ' will not Ali Akbar 
resent his nephew being beaten, and is he not a man of 



consequence ? I sometimes fear that the Persians may 
do badi.' 

Nadir's face darkened at once. * I know my business/ 
he said. 'Kings cannot be too tender. God knows I 
am not without pity. I am never hard because it 
pleases me. I am hard because without some hardness 
a king cannot be feared, and a king who is not feared 
is the worst of kings. Let your heart be at rest. You 
have seen what the Moghul has brought on his country 
by not keeping his people under control.' 



SiTARA was soon to learn that, pitiless or not, Nadir 
could be very terrible in his wrath. 

She was awake next morning before dawn. It was a 
clear, cool morning, and she watched from her lattice 
of fretted marble the sun rise unclouded out of the 
eastern plain. Below her lay the great city, its domes 
and minars breaking through the smoke and catching 
the early light. All seemed fair and peaceful. 

The day passed quietly and the evening came. 
Towards sunset Sitara went out upon a balcony where 
she could enjoy the breeze, and looked down over the 
city, waiting for nightfall. 

As she sat there, watching the colours fade from the 
sunset sky, and thinking of all the happiness that had 
come to her, she was startled by hearing some distant 
shots, followed by a sound of shouting and tumult. 
Her heart sank within her, for she knew what the 
Delhi mob was like. 

She could see nothing through the haze of smoke 
which overhung the town, and after a few minutes she 
sent a servant to the Agha Bashi, asking him to come 
to her. He came at once, and she begged him to go 
out and make inquiries. 

' It is nothing, Khanum,' he said ; * do not be troubled ' : 
but he went, and remained away an hour. While he 
was away there was some more firing, and Sitara 
awaited his return with growing anxiety. 



When at last he came his face was grave. He said 
that a messenger sent by Nadir to bring news had 
come back bleeding from a sword cut. The man 
reported that he had been stopped by the mob, and 
narrowly escaped with his life. The Moghul Emperor 
was in great alarm, and had also sent out messengers. 
They had brought back news of a riot at the grain 
stores. The city population was much excited. There 
had been some fighting between the mob and small 
parties of the Kizlbash. 

As the Agha Bashi spoke some musket-shots were 
fired from the fort, and then a gun or two. There was 
a roar in the town below, but it died away. 

After nightfall the shots and tumult ceased, and 
Sitara hoped that all was over ; but when Nadir came 
to her, later than usual, she knew that things were 
going badly. 

Before he entered the Anderun she heard him out- 
side giving his final orders, and vowing vengeance if 
any of his people had been killed. There was a tone in 
his voice which was new to her, like the growl of an 
angry beast. 

He lifted her curtain with a rough hand, and stood 
an instant looking at her, but with his thoughts 
evidently elsewhere. As she raised her eyes to his face 
she saw that it was dark and threatening. There was 
a flush on his cheek, and his eyes glowed with an 
angry light. 

The sight of her seemed to calm him, and the frown 
faded from his face as he came forward. She stood 
before him in silence, but he needed no words to show 
him her anxiety. 

* Do not be afraid,' he said, ' it is nothing. There has 
been some affray with the " lutis," the roughs, of the 


town, and I fear one or two of the Kizlbash have got 
into trouble, but they are able to take care of them- 
selves. The mob has been making a noise down below. 
All is quiet now, and I do not want to send the troops 
into the narrow streets while it is dark. In the morn- 
ing I shall move out and put things in order. The mob 
will be humble enough then.' 

But in spite of his assurances he was evidently dis- 
turbed in mind. He called for wine and drank cup 
after cup of Shiraz. Sitara knelt by the side of his 
takht, her hands at work upon the muscles of his great 
limbs, and gradually his wrathful mood yielded to the 
influence of her touch and her soothing words, but 
more than once before he slept he broke into impreca- 
tions which boded ill for the morrow. 

Even when he dropped off, his sleep was uneasy. 
He muttered and gripped the handle of his axe. Once 
there was a momentary alarm among the sentries on 
the walls of the fort, and a few shots were fired. He 
started up at once, with flushed face and angry eyes. 
It proved to be nothing, and he went to sleep again ; 
but for Sitara it was .a restless and anxious night. She 
hardly closed her eyes, and before the first glimmer of 
dawn she was broad awake, watching his face. He 
woke soon afterwards, and rose at once. He was 
irritable from want of sleep, and his first word was a 

Before he left her he controlled himself and regained 
his usual manner. He even laughed at her anxiety, and 
tried to reassure her. He took her face in his strong 
hands and looked into her eyes. * What ! a Bajputni 
and frightened?' he said. *I thought the Rahtors 
were the best soldiers in India.' 

His tone emboldened her. * I am not frightened,' she 



said. ' What are the badmashes, the evil livers, of the 
Bazaar? But, my Lord, you will be careful? The 
streets are narrow, and matchlock men may be hiding 
in the houses.' 

Nadir laughed again. * Allah will protect me,' he 
said. * It is not my fortune to be hurt in fight.' 

She shook her head. ' You are too fearless, my Lord.' 
Then she thought of her countrymen. ' My Lord, you 
will be merciful? There are badmashes in the city, 
but most of the people are Hindus, and mean no harm.' 

Nadir's face hardened and he answered impatiently. 
*I have promised,' he said; 'let your heart be at rest, 
but I must put down rebellion.' 

Looking down from a window which commanded a 
view of the city, and of the ground under the walls 
of the fort, Sitara saw the troops move out. Some 
regiments had been dismounted to clear the way. 
Then came the cavalry, squadron after squadron. 
Finally, when several thousand men had been swallowed 
up by the streets. Nadir and his escort followed. Sitara 
watched him with trouble at her heart as he dis- 
appeared into the great maze below. 

At first all seemed quiet, and she hoped for the best. 
But the morning was still young when she heard a 
shot, then one or two more, followed by a burst of 
shouting. Then the shouting was drowned by a rattle 
of musketry and the roar of guns, and smoke began 
to rise into the blue air in various quarters of the 

The story of that terrible day has been told by many. 
Nadir had ridden out of the fort fully intending to 
avoid, if possible, any unnecessary fighting or slaughter. 
But as he went forward he learned that some small 
parties of his men had been cut off during the night. 


and the dead bodies of several Kizlbash were found in 
the streets, shockingly mutilated. Nadir's anger was 
roused, and as the actual murderers could not be found, 
he gave orders for the punishment of certain quarters 
of the town. He was giving those orders when from 
a neighbouring house there was fired a shot which 
narrowly missed him and killed one of his officers. At 
the same time the sound of firing in his front gave 
warning that some of the Persians were being attacked. 
Then his patience gave way, and reinforcements from 
his camp having joined him, he let loose his troops. 

The fierce soldiery had been longing for a chance of 
sacking the Moghul capital, and they sprang forward 
to their work with a roar of joy. For several hours 
the city was given over to an awful vengeance, in 
which the innocent suffered far more than the guilty. 
As the wild Uzbegs and Turkomans rode to and fro, 
slaying and burning and ravishing, a madness of terror 
came upon the townspeople. Men stabbed themselves, 
or set fire to their houses and perished in the flames 
with all belonging to them. Women threw themselves 
into the wells, or leapt from the roofs and were dashed 
to pieces on the stones below. The long Tartar lances 
dripped with the blood of children who were hunted 
through the streets, and speared with shouts of devilish 

A few score of Nadir's men were killed, for here and 
there, maddened by despair and rage, the wretched 
people sold their lives dearly. But resistance soon 
ceased, and it became evident to the master of those 
savage legions that all danger to his supremacy was 
over. At last, feeling that enough had been done for 
safety, he gave orders for the slaughter to stop; and 
when the troops, drunk with blood and rapine, could be 



brought under control, the sounds of firing and the 
yells of fury and terror gradually died away. 

But when the sun set that night the flame and smoke 
of conflagration rose from every quarter of the great 
city, and thousands of Indians had been butchered. 



News of what* was going on had come to the Anderun, 
and with all its ghastly details. For the Rajput girl, 
watching hour after hour at her window in the fort, 
the day had been one of grief and horror. It is true 
that the people of Delhi were not her clansmen. A 
year or two before she would not even have understood 
their language. But they were largely of her faith — 
Hindus — and the bond was strong. She had tried with 
passionate entreaties to move the Agha Bashi to go 
out and intercede with Nadir. But he shook his head 
and refused. *I know the Shah,' he said; * whoever 
tries to interfere with him now is a dead man.' • 

Sitara had reproached him as heartless and a coward. 
At one time she had made up her mind to go herself, 
to send Nadir the seal he had given her, and claim his 
promise. But the negro had made her see that the 
attempt would be hopeless. ' You would never get to 
the Shah,' he said. ' The soldiers would stop you in the 
streets. The stone would mean nothing to them. They 
would ill-treat you or kill you.' And he had made her 
understand, respectfully but beyond the possibility of 
mistake, that if she made the attempt he would have 
her stopped himself. He was responsible for her safety, 
and he knew that Nadir would never forgive him if he 
let her go. 

As the night came down, and the sound of slaughter 


ceased, the Agha Bashi came to her again. He found 
her lying on the floor of her room, with unbound hair 
and tear-stained face, full of mingled sorrow and 
wrath. To all he said she gave no answer. At last, 
hoping to rouse her, and perhaps truly fearing for her, 
he spoke more roughly. 

' God knows I am sorry for you, Khanum, but what 
has been done has been done by the Shah's order. It 
was necessary. The Shah's troops were being murdered. 
What will he say if he comes to-night and finds you 
like this? He is angry, and evil thoughts may come 
to him. For God's sake compose yourself and do not 
bring his anger upon you.' 

Sitara's wailing ceased, and she turned upon him 
fiercely. * Go,' she said, ' go and leave me in peace. If 
the Shah comes I will tell him he is no man, but faith- 
less and a murderer — a murderer of women and chil- 
dren. Go and leave me.' 

The Agha Bashi sighed. He was about to speak 
again, but checked himself and walked out of the 
room. 'The Shah must not see her,' he thought. *If 
he does she will say all that is in her mind, and she 
will be lost. He will never forgive her.' 

Happily Nadir did not come. His first outburst of 
rage had been succeeded as the day wore on by a stern 
determination to give the Indians a lesson which would 
prevent any general rising against him; but through 
it all there had come to him at times the remembrance 
of Sitara's face as she pleaded for mercy to her people. 
Far more than the entreaties of the Moghul Emperor 
that remembrance had stayed his hand. 

She never knew it, but it was so ; and when he had 
done what he thought necessary he turned away 
willingly enough from the work of punishment. But 


he understood to some extent what the day had been 
for her, and shrank from meeting her at once. Better, 
he thought, give her time to master her grief and see 

His instinct was not at fault. When he did come to 
her again a day or two later, she had thought over it 
all, and recognised that he had been provoked beyond 
endurance. She had recognised, too, that for the safety 
of his army it had been necessary to strike terror into 
the ill-disposed. And she knew that the massacre, 
awful as it was, had been stopped by him before the 
troops got thoroughly out of hand. She received him 
without reproach, as if the massacre had never been. 

Yet each knew that the other had not forgotten, and 
a few days later they were reminded by a ghastly 
witness, for the stench of the rotting corpses invaded 
the fort. ^ 

Nearly two months longer Sitara remained in the 
Moghul capital. Nadir's cupidity had been stirred by 
the enormous treasure which he had taken from the 
fallen Emperor. The prospect of laying up a sum 
which would make him free thenceforward from all 
anxiety about the maintenance of his armies appealed 
to him with irresistible force. His treasury filled once 
for all by the plunder of India, he would march from 
conquest to conquest, perhaps to found a new empire, 
far from his hated Persians, on the shores of the 
Golden Horn. So during those long weeks his hand 
pressed with ever-increasing weight upon the Moghuls 
and their wretched people. None perhaps suffered 
more from his wrath and his exactions than the 
traitors who had invited him to attack their master. 
He made them responsible for the collection of colossal 
sums. They were supervised by Persian officers, who 


treated the highest of them with every sort of indig- 
nity. Many were flogged in public : many were forced 
to disgorge their own ill-gotten gains to make up the 
tale demanded of them. Some killed themselves in 
despair. All repented bitterly of their madness in 
exchanging the feeble rule of the Moghul for the 
merciless tyranny of the Turkoman conqueror. 

The people suffered cruelly. No fresh massacre came 
to add to the miseries of the cowed and abject capital, 
but food rose to famine price in the crowded streets, 
and for scores of miles on every side the Tartar horse- 
men rode over the country collecting supplies and 
marauding. Their horses ruined the fields of grain, 
the villages were plundered, and any who resisted the 
seizing of their goods or the dishonour of their women 
were slain without mercy. Soon all resistance ceased. 
Far away in the provinces the local governors oppressed 
the people to make up the tribute demanded of them. 
It was a time of horror all over the land. 

As if in mockery, Nadir took the opportunity to 
marry his son to an Indian princess, and the Moghul 
in his distress had to find money and jewels for her 
dower. Nadir himself gave the bride a great store of 
gems which he had taken from the Moghul's treasury. 
And the trembling citizens had to show their joy by 
fireworks and illuminations. 

Throughout March and April the work of collection 
went on, and the great stream of treasure flowed 
steadily into his coffers. His troops received all their 
arrears of pay ; a large gratuity was given in addition 
to every soldier and camp-follower; and recognising 
that the resources of the Persians had been drained to 
supply the needs of his army, Nadir, with politic care 
for his own interests, so far repressed his hatred that 


he sent to Persia an order remitting all taxes for three 

Towards the end of April he had done all that could 
be done. The heat was beginning, and he had a long 
way to march before his troops could get back to the 
uplands of Central Asia. One night he told Sitara 
that the time had come, and that in a few days more 
he would set out on his return. 

She heard the news with relief, if not with joy. The 
past two months had been a time of misery to her 
countrymen, and her heart had ached for them. In all 
the splendour of her new lot, in all the intoxication of 
her love, their sorrows had been her sorrows. And she 
had seen with ever-increasing regret that a change 
seemed to have come over Nadir himself. There was 
growing upon him a lust of gold, a fierce rapacity, 
which seemed unlike him. His former contempt for 
wealth, except as a means of supplying the needs of his 
armies, was giving place to something lower. She 
hated to see his eyes grow eager as he described the 
jewels and treasures he was amassing, and something 
of her feeling showed in her face. She was longing to 
get away from the great city. Once in the camp again, 
she thought, he would become again the Nadir of her 
first night, the soldier-king at whose feet she had 



On the first of May the Moghul Emperor and his chief 
officials were received by Nadir in farewell audience. 

Soon after daybreak the officials were assembled and 
were honoured with khilats, and soon afterwards the 
Moghul himself came to take leave of his conqueror. 
The monarchs had breakfast together, and then Nadir 
as suzerain invested the fallen Emperor with the 
insignia of his restored royalty. The descendant of so 
many warriors and kings humbly accepted his crown 
from the hands of the Turkoman soldier, and even 
stooped to ask his suzerain to nominate his chief 
officers of state. Nadir refused, and bade him make 
his own appointments, but promised to chastise all 
who did not obey his orders. With a last refinement 
of contempt and irony he warned his feudatory to 
beware of the traitors who had betrayed him in the 
past, and especially of those who had invited the 
Persian armies to India. Then the Moghul went back 
to his Palace of Joy in the Delhi fort. 

A day or two later Nadir Shah marched away from 
Delhi, bearing with him the priceless Peacock Throne, 
and an enormous booty in gold and jewels. In 
his turban glittered the great diamond of the Moghuls, 
the famous Koh-i-niir, or Mountain of Light. It 
glitters now in the crown of the British King. 

Before finally setting out on his return to the frontier 


Nadir sent back to Delhi the Indian women whom his 
officers had married or taken to themselves, and having 
done so he came to Sitara's tent. She had not seen 
him for some days, and her face was alight with 
pleasure as he stepped in and dropped the curtain 
behind him. But his look was stern, and his first 
words made her heart stand still. Taking no notice of 
her salutation, he stood looking at her as if dis- 

*I have sent back all the Indian women from the 
camp,* he said, and she looked up startled at his tone 
and words. * You too are an Indian.' 

She fell on her knees and laid her hands on his feet. 
For a moment he was silent. 

* You are free to do as you please. Why should I 
take you away against your will ? I have been hard 
to your people. If you wish to remain with them you 
are forgiven, and I will see that you are received with 
all honour. Say all that is in your mind. There is 
nothing to fear.' 

Nadir knew well enough what her answer would be, 
but he could not deny himself the pleasure of inflicting 
the trial upon her, and of saying at the same time the 
words of half apology which he was sure would bring 
him full forgiveness. 

* Oh my Lord ! ' she said, * I am yours. You can kill 
me and you can let me live. If you send me away it 
is death.' 

* But your country and your people. Can you leave 
them for ever ? You will never see them again.' 

Nadir's axe was hanging from his wrist. With a 
swift movement she bent forward and kissed it. 
* Better this,' she said, * if you wish to kill me.' 

He laid his hand on her head. ' As you will, little 


one. You shall go with me.' He looked into the eyes 
that were raised to his own. ' You are not like other 
women,' he said ; ' I believe you would give your life 
for me.' 

A smile of pride, almost of scorn, passed over her 
face. ' My life,' she said ; ' what is that to give ? When 
have the women of the Rajputs thought of their 
lives ? ' 

It was a proud speech, but the history of many ages 
has borne witness to its truth. 

And so when the Persian host marched away from 
the fallen capital of the Moghuls, the Rajput girl went 
with the conqueror of her people, drawn by a love 
which was more to her than all the world. 

The line of march lay across the Punjab, and as the 
country had already been devastated by the Persians 
in their advance. Nadir led back the main body of his 
troops by a fresh route further to the north, where 
supplies were more easily procured. It was a rugged 
country at best, and Sitara riding along in the Kurk 
saw with each day's march westward how the face of 
the land became harder and more sterile. The fertile 
districts about Delhi, with their flourishing towns and 
springing crops, gave place to barren plains and stony 
ravines, where the patches of cultivation were few and 
far between, and the flat-roofed, treeless villages on 
their little mounds were hardly to be distinguished 
from the earth around them. It was no new thing to 
her, for it reminded her of the sandy wastes she had 
known in her childhood, the Land of Death of the 
Rahtors ; but still with every day it seemed to her that 
India was fading away into the past. The men and 
women she saw were of an unfamiliar type, taller and 
wilder, and even their language was strange. 


The heat in the daytime was already great. Nadir's 
soldiery, accustomed to the colder climate of the 
Central Asian plateau, and clothed in heavy stuffs and 
sheepskins, sweated and murmured as they toiled 
across the sunburnt plains. One morning, as Sitara 
found herself by chance riding in Kurk not far from 
the Shirdzi, that lady took advantage of the occasion 
to torment her rival. She had always been as insolent 
and contemptuous as she dared to be. Now, irritated 
by the heat and dust and discomfort of the slow march, 
she gave rein to her temper. 

* Allah ! what heat,' she said, as she drew up along- 
side Sitara. *It dries up the marrow in my bones. 
And what a country ! No wonder you are glad to 
leave it,' and she quoted a Persian couplet which was 
a favourite at the time, * Oh God ! when you had Hind, 
why did you make Hell ? ' 

Sitara answered hotly : ' All Hind is not like this, 
and there are deserts in Persia too, they say. The real 
Hind is a country so beautiful with water and trees 
and crops that you have not seen the like of it even 
in a dream.' 

* I have seen enough,' the Persian answered. ' If it 
is so fine a country, why did the men of Hind not fight 
for it? They fled like deer before the Kizlbash. They 
said with the poet : 

* •* Not worth that a blood-drop should fall on the ground.'" 

Sitara flushed to the temple with anger and shame. 
*Who can stand against the Shah?' she answered. 
* His horsemen are the same Afghans and Tartars 
before whom the Persians have been as the dust of 
the earth since man can remember. How many 



thousands of your men and women are slaves in the 
black tents, tending the sheep of the man-sellers ? * 

The Shirazi laughed an evil laugh. 'Aha! you are 
learning the lesson well,' she said, * but we shall see. 
Iran has endured for thousands of years. It will not 
always be defiled by dogs.' 

The Agha Bashi had been riding close behind. He 
pushed his horse between the women. ' Peace, peace,' 
he said to the Shirazi. * Let the Khanum be. Has she 
not eaten grief enough these two months ? ' 

The Shirazi's eyes flashed as she reined back her 
horse. 'Ah, it is you,' she said contemptuously. 
' Come, then. Your place has been empty. Like 
colour, like heart.' 

The Agha Bashi hardly waited till she was out of 
hearing. 'Khanum,' he said to Sitara, 'why do you 
have anything to do with her ? She has a tongue that 
stings like a scorpion, and she hates you. Keep out of 
her way.' 

Sitara was glad of the interruption. She felt that 
she was no match for the Shirazi in a war of words, 
and she was smarting under the lash of the Persian's 

' I will keep out of her way if she will let me. God 
knows I do not want to quarrel. It is always her 
doing. But what does it matter if the Shah under- 
stands ? She is nothing to me.' 

'The Shah understands well enough. You have 
nothing to fear. He knows those who are faithful to 

And in that thought she found comfort. * I will not 
let her trouble me,' she said to herself. * I will think 
only of the Shah. Perhaps some day I shall be able 
to do him a service. He knows I would give my life 


for him. He has said it himself. Perhaps some day 
I shall be able to show him his words were true.' 

Her opportunity was to come sooner than she 
thought. A few days more and the long march to the 
frontier was over. The weary troops were resting on 
the banks of the Indus. Nadir had hoped to turn the 
defiles of the Khyber by the country of the Yusufzai, 
and was negotiating with their head-men for a passage. 
His tents were pitched not far from a branch of the 
river, which was guarded by his men, their posts 
extending along the eastern bank. 

It was night, and Nadir had talked late with Sitara, 
to whose tent he had come. A little before midnight 
he fell asleep, and she lay close by him, thinking over 
all he had said. Ever covetous of men, he was trying 
to draw to his standards the wild tribesmen of the 
Yusufzai. He had spoken warmly of their courage 
and hardiness, and had wished he could recruit his 
army with a few thousands of such fearless soldiers. 
But they were fierce and independent, he said, 
owning allegiance to no king or chief, and paying little 
regard to the orders of their own council of greybeards. 
They might be difficult to manage if he got them. 

The night was hot, and Sitara could not sleep. After 
lying quiet for a time her restlessness grew too strong 
for her, and she rose to her knees. Nadir was lying 
on his takht, his axe as ever by his hand. She got 
up without a sound and stole across the tent to the 
doorway. Putting aside the curtain, she stepped 
into the outer passage of the tent, and stood looking 
across the river at the Yusufzai hills, which lay dark 
and distant under the starlit sky. Everything was 
still in the camp, and she could hear no sound but the 
far-off tinkle of a mule bell, and the deep voice of the 



water as it flowed swiftly by in its narrow channel, 
hidden from sight, a hundred feet below, by rocky 

The tents of the Anderun were pitched as usual in 
a circular enclosure, which was surrounded by a high 
wall of tent canvas, and an outer fence of network. 
The space between the two was constantly patrolled 
by armed eunuchs. Beyond the network fence, cover- 
ing the main entrance of the enclosure, was a guard 

As Sitara stood at her doorway, looking out through 
the hanging mat which concealed her, she saw some- 
thing move near the entrance; and her eyes having 
grown accustomed to the starlight, she felt sure that 
she could distinguish a dark shape on the ground under 
the shadow of the tent wall. At first she thought that 
a stray dog wandering in search of food had eluded 
the sentries and crept under the canvas ; but the form, 
whatever it was, lay still for a full minute, and when 
it moved again it crept forward so slowly and stealthily 
that her interest was aroused. Gazing at it as it came 
out from the shadow of the tent wall into the open 
ground she saw that it was followed by another and 
another, and suddenly it came to her with a thrill of 
fear at her heart that the forms were those of men 
crawling across the enclosure straight for the door of 
her tent. Another instant and her doubt gave way to 
certainty, for as the leading man moved again there 
was a faint glimmer of steel in the starlight. 

Sitara's first impulse was to call out and alarm the 
camp, but the crawling forms were hardly fifty paces 
from her, and she felt that if they meant evil, one rush 
would bring them to the tent door. By letting them 
come on alowly, thinking themselves unseen, she would 


gain time to wake Nadir. She turned and crept into 
the tent again, swiftly and silently, and laid her hand 
on his. Nadir's senses, trained by a life of constant 
watchfulness, served him well. He woke at once, and 
seeing by her face and gesture that something was 
wrong, he was on his feet in an instant, his axe in his 
hand, and his brain as clear as if he had not slept. 
She drew him to the doorway and pointed to the place 
where the danger was. The men lay on the ground, 
motionless. Perhaps the faint sound of her footfall 
had reached them and made them pause in their 
advance. Nadir stood for a second or two gazing 
intently at the spot, Sitara's guiding hand still holding 
his. Then the leading form began to crawl forward 

Nadir was no coward, but he felt that if he gave the 
alarm or moved out he might be assailed at a dis- 
advantage. He stepped into the tent again, and 
signing to Sitara to put on her cloak, passed out by 
the entrance at the back. 

* The Agha Bashi,' he said in a whisper. 

Sitara took him straight to the tent where the negro" 
usually slept with his guard of armed eunuchs. One 
man was in it, seated on the floor awake. As Nadir 
raised the curtain he sprang to his feet. Nadir signed 
to him to be silent. 

'Where is the Agha Bashi?* 

*He went out a few minutes ago to visit the 

* Show me the way to the guard tent in front of the 

The man led the way through a tangle of pegs and 
tent ropes, and in a minute they were out of the 
enclosure in the starlight. Nadir walked to the door 


of the guard tent and looked in. There was a lamp in 
the tent, and by its light he could see the men of the 
guard lying asleep. 

A moment more and they were out of the tent, 
armed and ready, a dozen of them, men of the Shah's 
own tribe, Turkomans of the Af shar. Nadir sent some 
of them to warn the posts along the river-bank. 

' Stay here,' he said to Sitara, and she stood by the 
door of the guard tent watching. 

Nadir and the guard stepped across to the entrance 
of the Anderun. Close to it they could see in the 
starlight the form of the sentry who should have been 
pacing in front of it. He was seated apparently asleep 
on a piece of rock, his back propped against it, and 
his head covered. His matchlock lay by his side. 
Nadir laid his hand on the man's shoulder, but he did 
not move. He was dead. His back was soaked with 
blood from a deep knife wound between the shoulders, 
and a rough woollen cloth had been wrapped round his 

Nadir had hoped to surround the Anderun quietly 
and capture the assassins, but their quick ears had 
caught the sound of the stir in the camp. As he was 
giving his orders he heard a warning cry from Sitara, 
and turning towards her saw three men running 
swiftly past the guard tent in the direction of the 
river. One of them as he ran struck savagely at the 
cloaked figure in his path. There was a shout and a 
rush of men from all sides, and a few shots; but as 
Nadir and his guards reached the edge of the almost 
perpendicular cliff which overhung the river they 
heard a clatter of stones below them, and a plunge. 
The bank was soon alight with torches, and a hot fire 
of matchlocks was poured upon the dark face of the 


river below, but it was useless. Nadir waited for a 
moment and went back to the guard tent. Sitara 
came out as he called to her. 

* I am safe, my Lord,' she said. * He thought I was a 
man and struck at me, but I sprang back, and he ran 
on. I am not touched.' 

* Thank God,' Nadir said, • Jdn i ma — my life,' and he 
laid his hand on the girl's shoulder. ' But for you it 
might have gone hard with me.' 

A distant shout came across the river from a 
point below where they were standing. The tribes- 
men had been carried far down by the current, but had 
landed in safety, and were sending back a farewell of 
triumph and defiance. 

A grim example of their prowess lay near the river- 
bank. One soldier had been quick enough to get in 
their way as they ran. He lay on the ground dead. 
The heavy, straight * chura ' of a tribesman had fallen 
fair on his shoulder, close to the neck, and had cloven 
its way through bone and flesh down to his heart. 

* Af rin ! ' Nadir said. * That is a man's stroke. Our 
faces are blackened, but by Allah they are men ! ' 

All was soon quiet again, and Nadir was back in 
Sitara's tent. The jewels she had taken off that night 
were gone. They were worn for many a year after- 
wards by three girls of the Yusufzai. 

Nadir was soon asleep once more. He was too old 
a soldier to let such an incident disturb his peace of 
mind. But perhaps he slept the more quietly for 
knowing that he had by his side so quick and faithful 
a watcher. 


From Elphhistones ^Account of Caubul 



The unfortunate men who had been on guard during 
the night paid dearly for their negligence. Partly for 
his own safety, partly for the proper training of his 
troops, Nadir on such occasions was without pity. The 
sun had hardly risen next morning before he was at 
the river-bank, finding out where the Yusufzais had 
crossed. Then he took his seat in Durbar, and all con- 
cerned were brought before him. A few minutes 
sufficed for their trial. The men who had been in 
the guard tent at the entrance of the Anderun were 
at once ordered out for execution. Of them no 
questions were asked. They were soon followed by 
those who had been on duty to right and left of the 
point where the tribesmen had landed and swarmed 
up the cliff. Almost all died without useless com- 
plaints or prayers. Nadir's face was set like a flint, 
and they knew that they might as well have asked 
for mercy of the rocks about them. One only, a 
youth of Nadir's own tribe, the Afshar — upon whose 
chin the down was still soft — cursed him wildly. 
Nadir's hand rose, and in an instant the boy had 
been dragged to the entrance of the Durbar tent, his 
head forced backward by the Nasakchis, and his throat 

The rest, all men of the Six Thousand, walked out 
proudly to their doom. They laid aside their white 



coats and cuirasses, and knelt down in a line, stripped 
to the waist. Each man as his turn came repeated the 
kalima, * There is no God but God, and Mahomed is 
the prophet of God/ The next instant his head fell 
to the ground, shorn off by one dragging cut of the 
executioner's sword. The bodies lay for hours where 
they had fallen, a terrible warning to their com- 

But towards the Yusufzai tribesmen Nadir's attitude 
was wholly different. Their exploit only whetted his 
desire to obtain Yusufzai recruits; and when by dint 
of promises he had induced a *jirga' of the tribe to 
come into his camp, he spoke to them without anger. 

Not a word was said about the attempt to murder 

Standing among the tribesmen on the open ground, 
under the two great flagstaffs from which floated the 
Imperial standards, he showed them the ordered lines 
of his great host, the splendour of his retinue, glitter- 
ing with the spoils of India, the innumerable cannon, 
always a terror to the imagination of wild men, and 
the long ranks of Indian elephants with which he could 
ford or swim their mountain rivers. 

*Men of the Yusufzai,' he said, 'choose which you 
will. Your men are brave, but they are poor. If they 
will join me, they will have honourable service and pay, 
and such booty as they have never dreamed of. Your 
tribe will grow rich with the plunder of kingdoms. If 
you insist on doing me evil, on your heads be it. None 
have yet been able to stand against my victorious 
troops. You are brave, and I honour brave men, but 
you are few. Why should your tribe be blotted out of 
the book of existence ? ' 

Little by little bis words prevailed. Greed of plunder 


perhaps, rather than fear, was the motive that acted 
upon the needy tribesmen; but when Nadir marched 
away, there was peace between him and the Yusufzai, 
and a large contingent of the mountaineers had enlisted 
under his banners. 

Nadir dealt in a similar spirit with the tribes who 
held the Khyber, to which route he had reverted. 
With all his bold words, he was too good a soldier 
not to know that if he tried to force his way through 
their rugged mountains, he would lose time and men, 
and a fine recruiting ground. So he lavished freely on 
the wild tribesmen the wealth he had taken from the 
Moghul, and to this day they boast that the mighty 
conqueror paid them for a passage. 

The heat was fierce when Sitara, riding with the 
Kurk, looked her last on the Indian plains, and saw 
in front of her the head of the column plunge into the 
mouth of the great defile. She was leaving behind her 
for ever the land of her birth, and those who know the 
Hindu know how the men and women of her race 
dread going out to a world of strange customs and 
strange beliefs. It was breaking with all that she had 
held dear and sacred. And she was doing it for the 
love of a man whose loves had been countless. She 
knew how precarious her position was, how his sudden 
passion might at any moment change into indifference 
or dislike. Then what would be before her but a life 
of misery, in a land of strangers who hated or despised 
her and her people ? It was not without something of 
fear and sadness that she faced her unknown future. 
But her heart never faltered in its resolve. Full of the 
unmeasured devotion which marks the woman of the 
Rajputs, she had but one object — to serve, and if need 
be, to die for, the man she loved. 


The long column wound through the pass, and to 
right and left the rock walls closed in until they 
towered a thousand feet sheer above her head. On 
a jutting point here and there, far out of reach, she 
saw the dark form and long matchlock of a tribes- 
man, guarding the defile against marauders, and the 
girl thought of what might have been if the moun- 
taineers had been enemies. But the column passed 
on its way in safety, not a shot fired to delay its 
march, until at last it descended the mountain slopes 
on the western side, and saw before it the compara- 
tively open country of Afghanistan. There were 
mountainous tracts ahead still, but Nadir's innumer- 
able horsemen covered the face of the land, and the 
tribes to which it belonged were his most trusted 
soldiery, the men on whose rugged faith and valour 
the great soldier relied to keep order among his own 
countrymen. They were a difficult people to manage 
too, wild and fierce and fickle like the Israelites from 
whom they claimed descent. The Persians hated and 
feared and despised them. * Afghan be iman, the 
faithless Afghan,' was the word constantly in a 
Persian's mouth. But Nadir knew the *Ban i Israil,' 
and for him they were faithful to the death. 

The army marched on slowly now, with many halts, 
through the open valleys towards Kabul. After the 
heat of India, the air of the Central Asian uplands was 
fresh and exhilarating. Instead of the desolate, dust- 
coloured plains of the Punjab, Sitara saw around her 
the green of springing crops. The streams which 
poured down from the mountain-sides were clear 
and cold. The blue air was full of swallows. And 
as yet Nadir's love held true. It was a happy 


From Elphinstone' s 'Account of CaubuV 



As the autumn closed in, Nadir's troops, who had 
been rested and strengthened by their leisurely ad- 
vance, marched into Kabul. On the last day of the 
march Sitara, riding over a stony * kotal,' or mountain 
pass, saw on a hillock by the roadside an iron cage 
raised on a post. Inside the cage was crouched some- 
thing bearing the semblance of a man. She asked the 
Agha Bashi what it was. 

'It is the justice of the Shah. When we marched 
down last year, there were two Ghilzai robbers who 
were striking the road. They held up one of the 
Shah's kafilas. It was not a great loss — a string of 
camels laden with Shiraz wine and melons from 
Ispahan; but the Shah was angry. Soon afterwards 
one of the Ghilzais was surprised in his sleep by men 
in the Shah's pay, who brought him in to camp, bound 
hand and foot. The Shah ordered that he should be 
put there for an example, where he had attacked the 

' He was killed ? ' 

' No, Khanum. The Shah wished to teach the Ghilzais 
that they must not strike the road. The man was put 
in the cage where all who passed could see him, and 
left without food or water. He was a strong man, and 
lived for sixteen days they say.' 

Sitara was silent. It seemed a horrible punish- 

'Being very thirsty, he asked the guards for the 
sake of God to kill him and put him out of his torment, 
and they would have done it, for he was a brave man 
and they felt sorry for him, but they knew the Shah 
would hear of it, and dared not. So he was long in 
dying, and the Ghilzais have never struck the road 


Sitara sighed. 

*Khanum,' the Agha Bashi said, *what would you 
have ? These people are Shaitans. Killing them is no 
use. They laugh at death. And the King's road must 
be made safe. 

* Afsos. It is a pity.' 

*Yes, Khanum, it is a pity. But kings cannot 
show mercy to evil-doers. The Shah knows his busi- 
ness, and the country is quiet, though it is full of 

They rode on over the pass and across the open 
plain, a long march, to where the citadel of Kabul 
lay against a stony hillside. Under it was the town, 
surrounded and half hidden by poplars and willow- 
trees. Near the gateway of the citadel they came 
upon another example of Nadir's justice. In a piece 
of open ground by the side of the moat, Sitara saw 
a man seated on the ground. An iron collar was 
round his neck, and was fastened by a chain to a 
stump. By his side was a basin of water, and a brass 
platter with some pieces of unleavened bread. The 
Agha Bashi reined in his horse and spoke to a sentry 
who was standing close by. He came back to Sitara 
with a grave face. 

* What is it ? ' she said. 

* Khanum, the man is an officer of the Kizlbash. He 
was left here with the garrison when we marched for 
India. They say he was jealous of an Afghan whom 
the Shah favoured. One day they went out for a ride 
together, and this man challenged the other to race 
him across the plain to a tree he pointed out. On 
the way there was a deep ravine, and in it he 
had placed two men with muskets. When the Afghan 
came to the ravine he had to ride down slowly, and 


they killed him and hid his body. But the Shah's 
spies know everything, and a report was sent to the 
Shah. He ordered that the murderer should be 
exposed as you see him. He has water and bread, 
but both are half salt, so that if he eats or drinks 
it is torment. He will die soon. He is nearly mad 

Sitara could not repress an exclamation of horror and 
pity. The Agha Bashi shook his head. 

'Khanum, it is the Shah's order. Treachery like 
that must be punished. For God's sake be careful 
what you say.' 

'I will be careful,' the girl answered, *but these 
things frighten me. Is it good for the Shah's name 
that he should do them ? ' 

Nadir's camp was pitched around a walled garden in 
the valley to the west of Kabul, amid lines of poplars 
and spreading plane-trees. The sky was without a 
cloud. In the pure dry air of the Central Asian 
plateau, some thousands of feet above the sea, the 
mountains stood out with exquisite clearness, their 
bare sides and summits taking the most delicate shades 
of colour. To the north, the distant ranges were 
already white with snow. 

The troops, refreshed by their quiet summer, now 
feasted upon the good fare of the Afghan valleys. 
Grain and meat were plentiful, and fruit of every 
kind was almost too abundant. Grapes, apricots, 
peaches, apples, the pomegranates of which Asiatics 
are so fond, all poured into the camp. 

Sitara, looking out from the window of a garden- 
house where the Agha Bashi had lodged her, the nights 
being already cold, used to see the villagers coming in 
with donkey loads of sweet little seedless grapes. A 


dozen men *of the guard would pour out the contents 
of the panniers on the ground, and sit round in a circle, 
eating bread and grapes till they could eat no more. 
True, it was the month of Ramazan, when believers 
should fast, and some of the more faithful among 
them did so. As sunset approached and the hours of 
fasting were nearly over, Sitara would see a line of 
Kizlbash, each with his kalian in his hand, waiting for 
the evening gun. As the sound rang out, the pipe- 
stems went to their lips, and for a few seconds nothing 
was heard but the gurgle of the water in the bowls, 
and deep inhalations of the much-craved tobacco 
smoke, always the first thing taken. But most of the 
rough soldiery of Nadir recked little of Ramazan, and 
Nadir gave them free dispensation, both by precept 
and example. His first care was that his * poor priests 
of God ' should be well fed and fit for duty, and they 
took full advantage of the licence allowed them. In 
spite of their muUas the troops, as a rule, passed the 
time in feasting and comfort. 

Yet amid all the rest and peace of that pleasant 
autumn Nadir himself worked unceasingly. From her 
window Sitara could see him sitting, hour after hour, 
in his tent of audience dispensing justice and trans- 
acting his manifold affairs. A constant stream of men 
came before him. Afghan chiefs or village head-men, 
charged with maintaining order in the country or 
finding supplies, would be brought in one by one; 
big bearded men in sheepskins, the wool inside and 
the leather roughly embroidered with yellow silk. 
Military commanders and civil officials came in scores 
to receive orders or write despatches at Nadir's dicta- 
tion. Or his chamberlain, a tall, richly dressed officer 
bearing a silver-topped staff of office, would usher in a 


deputation of mullas and seyyids, descendants of the 
prophet, with voluminous turbans of white or dark 

In spite of his contempt for the Shia priests of 
Persia, Nadir showed a poHtic respect for the orthodox 
mullas of Afghanistan, well knowing their power over 
the ignorant and fanatical tribesmen. Once they 
demanded from him the life of a man who had been 
guilty of blasphemy, and Sitara, looking from her 
window, saw the man taken out and stoned. He knelt 
on the ground, covering his face with his hands, and a 
circle of men standing round hurled masses of rock 
upon him till he was beaten down and hidden from 

Offenders of all classes were brought before Nadir, 
and received summary justice. Once a train of these 
poor wretches passed under Sitara's window, and she 
shuddered to see them. There were men who had 
suffered the felek, limping by in agony with bandaged 
feet ; blinded men, with blood oozing from their empty 
sockets ; men who had been mutilated in other ways, 
with their heads or arms swathed in bloody cloths. All 
were submissive and almost silent, save for a groan of 
irrepressible anguish, or a low heart-broken wail. The 
Tartar horsemen drove them mercilessly past, pricking 
with their long lances those who lagged, and laughing 
aloud if some poor wretch flinched at the sudden touch 
of steel. It was horrible, horrible, and as Sitara shrank 
from her window feeling faint and sick, she said to 
herself, in spite of the warning of the Agha Bashi, * I 
will speak. I must speak to him. For his own sake 
I must speak to him.' 

She tried that night. He came in to her rooms with 
a suddenness which startled her. As she sprang to her 


feet and made her salaam, he laughed. * Frightened ? ' 
he said. *What evil have you been doing?' and his 
eyes were so full of good-humour that it gave her 
courage. Soon she found her opportunity. There was 
a tray of fruit on the carpet where she had been lying. 
* It is a fine country,' he said. ' There is no fruit like 
the fruit of Kabul. But my Afghans are a rough 
people. With all their grapes they make no good wine 
— nothing like the wine of Shiraz.' 

Sitara smiled. *Then the Persians are good for 
something, my Lord ? ' 

' Yes. They can make wine, and drink it, but they 
are good for nothing else. An Afghan is worth ten 

* And yet, my Lord, you have to punish the Afghans 
very often. I saw many of them coming from the 
Presence to-day and ... oh! my Lord, it was a sad 

Nadir's face clouded over. * You have a soft heart. 
But you should not eat grief for them. Offenders must 
be punished.' 

* I know, my Lord. Who am I that I should speak ? 
But, my Lord, forgive me. Is such " sakhti " — such 
hardness — necessary ? Some were nearly dead from the 
felek, some had lost their eyes, and some their hands. 
And on the road I saw the cage where the Ghilzai 
robber had died, and the man in chains at the gate of 
the Bala Hissar. My Lord, it frightens me. They are 
a fierce people. Will they not do evil in revenge ? ' 

Her voice shook as she finished, for Nadir's eyes were 
very stern. 

* I will forgive you this time,* he said, * for you mean 
no harm. But never let me hear you speak of such 
matters again. Affairs of state are not for women. 


Kings cannot be merciful. Mercy to offenders is in- 
justice to the good. I know my business, and I will 
have no interference. Remember that once for all.' 

' My Lord, forgive me. I was wrong to speak. But I 
was thinking only of my Lord's service. I will never 
speak again.' 

Nadir relented. •! have forgiven,' he said. * Re- 
member for the future. God knows I do not wish to 
be angry with you.' 

The lesson sank deep into Sitara's heart, and per- 
haps she loved him the more for knowing that she 
could not move him. Brave and impetuous as she 
was, she was glad to feel that he was her master. 



Nadir's stay in Kabul was short. His troops, their 
health restored, and their ranks swollen by many 
thousands of the hardiest fighting-men in Asia, were 
ready now for fresh fatigues and fresh victories. As 
usual, he was growing restless under inaction. 

He had during that year done enough to satisfy most 
men. The great empire of the Moghuls had fallen 
before him, and he had returned in triumph with such 
wealth as he had never before dreamed of possessing. 
Gold and jewels and ivory, and the precious work of 
Indian looms, and elephants and horses and camels — 
all that an eastern monarch could desire — he had 
gathered in incalculable quantities. Even his rough 
spearmen had begun to wear rich stuffs, and to adorn 
their arms and bridles with silver and gems. He 
laughed at them, but encouraged them, for it all 
brought him recruits, and he meant to leave them 
no time to get soft. He had already made his plans 
for the conquest of the Central Asian Khanates of 
Bokhara and Khiva. He would end once for all the 
ancient rivalry of Iran and Turan, Persia and Tartary, 
and hunt down in their deserts the man-sellers who 
had so long ravaged the fairest provinces of Persia. 
Then perhaps he would turn his attention to the 
Caucasus and Constantinople. He had already sent to 
tlio Sultan an embassy with presents selected from the 


plunder of India — elephants and jewels and rich stuffs. 
The embassy was charged with demands which the 
Turk was very unlikely to grant, and the demands 
were backed by a threat of war. The dream of 
founding a new empire on the Bosphorus was ever 
before Nadir's eyes. 

But before marching towards the north and west, 
Nadir had to make all secure behind him. When he was 
leaving India, the Moghul Emperor had formally ceded 
to him all the countries west of the Indus ; and at the 
beginning of the winter Nadir set in motion his great 
host for a march to the south and east. 

It was a toilsome march, and the troops suffered 
much from the cold. For those of the men who ob- 
served the fast of Ramazan, the suffering was intensi- 
fied by hunger and weakness. It is no light thing to 
march all day without touching food or water, or 
drawing one whiff from the kalian. There was scanty 
provision for the animals, and toiling over the rough 
roads, crossing and recrossing the icy streams, chilled 
by cold blasts from the hills around them, many of the 
mules and camels perished, and much baggage was 
lost. In this respect. Nadir, like all great soldiers, was 
pitiless. Beforehand he made all the preparations he 
could ; but once started he thought only of the object 
before him, and pressed on regardless of the losses and 
sufferings of his people. It was the only way of accom- 
plishing great deeds, but the vast armies of Eastern 
conquerors, with their trains of artillery and animals, 
always suffered terribly on their marches through these 
sparsely inhabited and barren countries. The wonder 
was that they could subsist at all. 

The mountains were left behind, and in the warmer 
country on the banks of the Indus the perishing force 


was once again in plenty. The buried grain stores of 
the deserted villages were unearthed and distributed 
among the troops, the baggage animals grew fat again 
on green wheat and barley, and the winter passed 
agreeably enough. 

An old chronicler who accompanied Nadir on this 
march relates a characteristic story of the Shah's 
wild soldiery. ' During the whole of this march all 
the villages through which we passed were entirely 
deserted ; and the only person that I saw was a fat 
Brahmin sitting upon the highway begging alms in 
the names of Har and Mahadeo. I did all I could to 
persuade him to save himself by flight from the fury 
of the soldiers, who were near at hand ; but he was so 
infatuated that he would not stir, and even asked me 
if I envied him the alms which he should obtain? 
During our conversation a party of Bakhtiaris came 
up, and binding the poor wretch hand and foot, 
they cut him in pieces, to try the sharpness of their 

Nadir remained on the banks of the Indus organising 
his new province, until the festival of the Persian New 
Year. Then large sums of Indian gold were distributed 
among his troops, and all was peace and rejoicing. A 
few days later the army marched for the north by way 
of Quetta and Kandahar, and in the month of May 
they arrived in Herdt 

Sitara had accompanied the army, and day after day, 
as she rode in the Kurk, she saw all around her the 
results of long warfare and misrule. Here and there 
on the road were ancient cities and mosques and 
tombs, the remnants of a bygone civilisation ; but the 
cities were in ruins, the mosques were deserted. Even 
Herdt itself, once a fine town, was now a scene of 


desolation. The population had shrunk to a half of 
what it had been, and the ground-floors of the houses 
were ploughed up and sown with grain. 

' This is not like the cities of Hind,' Sitara re- 
marked with pardonable malice to the Shirazi as they 
rode through the ruined streets; and the Shirazi 
answered with characteristic aptness : 

*The spider is the chamberlain at the door of 
Khusrii, and the owl keeps watch in the tower of 

But, fallen as it was from its former greatness, Herat 
was still the best base from which Nadir could attack 
the Khanates of Tartary ; and there he halted his great 
army while he completed the preparations for his new 

He began by passing in review the plunder of the 
Indian Empire. Before he left the Moghul capital he 
had given orders for the manufacture of arms and 
harness of every kind, inlaid with precious stones, and 
for the preparation of a royal pavilion which was 
to be as splendid as wealth and art could make it. 
Hundreds of the best workmen of India had been 
impressed for the service, and throughout the year, 
while he was on the march, the work had been going 
on. When he arrived in Herat, all was ready for the 
great display. In the open space before the Diwan 
Khaneh, or place of audience, was pitched the royal 
pavilion. It was a vast tent, covered with fine scarlet 
cloth and lined with green satin. In it were displayed 
the Peacock Throne of the Moghuls, another throne 
which Nadir had used before his expedition to India, 
others again which had belonged to some of the rulers 
he had conquered. All were richly carved, and inlaid 
with gold and gems and ivory. Around them were 


displayed many other specimens of Indian jewel work, 
sets of harness, swords and sword sheaths, spears and 
maces, quivers and shields. The Englishman, Hanway, 
who visited Nadir's camp two or three years later, 
describes his * horse furniture ' in these words : * He 
had four complete sets, one mounted with pearls, 
another with rubies, a third with emeralds, and the 
last with diamonds, most of which were of so pro- 
digious a size as hardly to merit belief; for many of 
them appeared as big as a pigeon's egg.' The walls of 
the tent itself were adorned with representations of 
birds and beasts, and trees and flowers, all formed of 
pearls and gems. The poles which upheld the pavilion 
were encrusted with jewels, and even the tent pins 
were of massive gold. Proclamation was made by 
beat of drum throughout the city and the camp that 
this magnificent exhibition, * such as had never before 
been seen in any age or country,' was open to all ; and 
the people of Herat and the soldiery came in their 
thousands to gaze and wonder. 

These priceless spoils, and Nadir's treasure of every 
kind, were to be sent to Persia when the expedition 
started. In charge of them, as Governor of the 
country, Nadir left his second son, who had accom- 
panied him to India. His eldest son, Reza Kuli Khan, 
who had been Governor during his long absence, 
was to join him and share the triumphs of the 

Soon all was in readiness. The baggage of the troops 
had been cut down, and everything that could be spared 
bad been stored in Herat. Light marching tents had 
been distributed, one to every ten men. The baggage 
animals had been carefully inspected and equipped. 
Before the end of June Nadir's restless spirit was once 


more appeased by action, and the army which was 
to conquer Turan, great in numbers still, but selected 
and weeded with the utmost care, marched out upon 
the road to the Oxus. 

With it went a few of Nadir's ladies, riding in 
Kurk, and among them Sitara. 




It was a bright summer morning when the Kurk 
marched out of Herat. The sun was hot, but the air 
was clear and pleasant, and Sitara rejoiced at finding 
herself again on the back of her Arab. She had 
caught some of the restlessness of her lord, and she 
knew that in camp he would be less occupied and more 
cheerful than in the city, where the work of prepara- 
tion had kept him busy from morning to night. 

When he rode into the Kurk, soon after they started, 
it was evident that he had left all care behind. He 
galloped up as usual at headlong speed, and drew rein 
close to the Agha Bashi, who had dismounted to receive 
him. His eyes were shining, and his face bright with 
good-humour. He raised his hand with a smile in reply 
to the salute of the veiled women. 

* Mount, Agha Bashi,' he said, * and ride with me. I 
have just received good news.' 

*May the Shah always have good news,' the negro 
answered, as he sprang into the saddle. 

* The Vali Ahd's ^ camp has arrived near Herdt, and 
he is riding on in advance. He will catch us up this 

* His place has long been empty. It is two years 
since our eyes have been rejoiced by the sight of him.' 

The Agha Bashi honestly shared in the Shah's 
pleasure, for Reza Khan was a favourite with all in 

* Vali A?ul, heir-apparent. 


camp. He was like his father in many ways, with 
much of Nadir's soldierly frankness and charm of 
manner. Though young, he had proved his courage in 
the field, and won the hearts of the Kizlbash. 

Sitara, riding behind the Shah, heard the words, and 
her curiosity was aroused. Nadir had spoken to her of 
Reza Khan more than once, and she knew that he was 
proud of his soldier son. In fact. Nadir made no con- 
cealment of the fact that Reza was his favourite. His 
second son was a different character altogether, a man 
of the pen rather than a man of the sword. 

An hour later, Sitara saw the meeting. Nadir was 
still talking gaily with the Agha Bashi, his deep laugh 
thundering out at intervals, when a mounted eunuch 
rode up from the rear. He spoke to the Agha Bashi, 
and pointed to a body of horsemen on the plain, out- 
side the lines of the Kurk. Nadir turned his horse 
and cantered towards them. When he was out of the 
Kurk he reined up, and the horsemen, who had dis- 
mounted, came towards him on foot. Striding out in 
front was a tall, straight figure in whose walk and 
carriage, even at that distance, Sitara thought she 
could see the likeness to the Shah. Nadir leant from 
his saddle, and laid his hand on his son's shoulder. 
They seemed to exchange a few words of greeting, and 
then Reza Khan mounted again, and the two rode on 
side by side. 

* The Shah will be happy to-day,' the Agha Bashi said. 
* The Vali Ahd is a son to be proud of. God grant that 
they may always be of one heart.' 

He was riding by Sitara's side. 

* Inshallah ! Please God,' she answered, with a touch 
of surprise in her voice. *Are they not father and 


The Agha Bashi looked at her, and hesitated. 
* Khanum, they are very much alike,' he said, in a low 
voice, * and the Vali Ahd has been alone for two years. 
Also there are people always ready to do badi for their 
own advantage.' 

He saw the look of indignation in her eyes, and 
smiled. * Nay, there is no cause for fear, Khanum. I 
should not have spoken. Inshallah ! All will go well. 
The Vali Ahd is a fine youth, and the Shah's soul is big. 
Let your heart be at rest.' 

That night Nadir came to her — the first time he had 
done so for some days, and she fancied that he did not 
look so cheerful as he had been in the morning. After 
a few minutes he introduced the subject. 

* You have heard that my son has come from 

' Yes, my Lord. I saw you ride out from the Kurk 
to meet him.' 

* He is a fine boy. It is well that he has come. 
Besides him I have only my brother's son in the camp. 
He will be of much service to me.' 

* Inshallah ! They say that the Vali Ahd is a brave 

A look of displeasure passed across Nadir's face. 

* Why do you call him the Vali Ahd ? ' 

* That is how I have heard him called, and my Lord 
has spoken of him so to me. Is it wrong ? ' 

Nadir looked at her, and paused a second before he 
answered. * No,' he said. * You have done nothing 
wrong. He is brave and capable, and he is the eldest. 
But it is for me to name the Vali Ahd.' 

* Without doubt, my Lord, In Iran there is none but 
you. Whatever you order all will obey.' 

Nadir's displeasure seemed to pass off, and for an 


hour he talked of his son in words of praise. As he 
spoke of the boy's courage his face lit up with pride, 
and his eyes shone. 

' Aye,' he said at last, * he is a soldier like me. His 
heart is brave, and his arm is strong. He is young 
yet, and hot-headed at times. He has not had to win 
his way up as I had, and has not learned caution. But 
he is a brave man. There is no other fit to be Vali Ahd.' 

The force marched on to the north-east by the edge 
of the Turkoman desert, crossing at one place a three 
days' stretch of waterless sand, where some men and 
many horses perished. But on the whole the month's 
march was pleasant enough. There was abundance of 
game in the reed jungle which fringed the line of 
march — pheasants and deer and wild boars. In the 
words of an eye-witness, ' the soldiers killed such num- 
bers of deer that no one would eat mutton.' 

Nadir had been surprised, and not altogether pleased, 
at finding his son so much stronger and more manly 
than he had expected, but the feeling seemed to have 
passed away. Reza Khan knew the country, and had 
made himself really useful. Nadir had, in fact, been 
unusually merry — joining in his son's hunting parties, 
and roaring with laughter when a wild boar dashed 
out suddenly from a reed bed and unhorsed one of his 
chief officers, who was supposed to be rather like a 
boar himself. ' Your little brother used you very un- 
civilly,' Nadir said. If the description of an old 
chronicler is to be believed, he had some excuse for 
his mirth. The man ' was short in stature, corpulent 
and ill-formed, of dark complexion, with a most detest- 
able countenance ; his skin hung in plaits like the hide 
of a rhinoceros ; and his head and neck were only fit to 
be cut asunder. On the contrary. Nadir Shah was tall. 


had a beautiful complexion of red and white, with a 
fine animated countenance.' 

When the day's march was ended Reza Khan would 
share Nadir's supper, and the two would quaff deep 
draughts of Shiraz, and sit talking and laughing far 
into the night. 

If Nadir was less with Sitara in consequence, she was 
unselfish enough to rejoice in his happiness, and when 
at last they reached the historic city of Balkh, ruined, 
of course, but beautiful in its ruins, all seemed to be 
going well. 



There was a short halt at Balkh while Nadir com- 
pleted his preparations for his conquest of the Tartar 

While far away in India, he had thought over the 
campaign, and with the foresight which characterised 
him, had given his orders a year in advance. 

There was one road into the heart of Tartary — the 
majestic river which flowed northward to the Aral 

The Governor of Balkh had been directed to lay in 
stores of grain upon its banks, and skilled workmen 
had been sent from India to build a thousand boats, 
some for the construction of bridges, others for the 
transport of supplies. The grain boats were now 
loaded up, and placed in charge of Nadir's nephew, Ali 
Kuli, while Nadir marched with his army down the 
left bank of the Oxus to protect them from any attack 
on the part of the nomad Turkomans, the hated * man- 
sellers,' whose deserts lay to the westward. 

The women of the Anderun were carried in comfort 
upon rafts made of inflated bullock skins. A fleet of 
these rafts, guarded by boats full of armed men, floated 
down the river, and from one of them, lying at her 
ease on a soft carpet, Sitara watched day after day the 
orderly advance of the great army. 

Twelve days' march brought all safely to Char jui, the 


nearest point to Bokhara. Here a bridge of boats was 
constructed under the orders of Nadir in person, and 
the army crossed to the right bank. 

By this time it had been ascertained that the King of 
Bokhara had given up all hope of resisting the conqueror 
of India. Awed by the fame of Nadir, and the vast 
scale of his preparations for the invasion, the King's 
people urged him to submit; and after some negotia- 
tion, without a shot being fired, the Persian force took 
possession of his capital. The historic city, the greatest 
of the capitals of Turdn, was spared the horrors of a 
sack, and indeed the plunder would have been small, 
for in spite of its fame, Bokhara was poor in everything 
but mosques and tombs. But though Nadir preserved 
the city from destruction, he remembered that the 
King had in the past sent him defiant messages. Like 
the Moghul, therefore, the King was ordered to present 
himself in person at the camp of his conqueror, and his 
reception was even more humiliating than the reception 
of the Moghul had been. 

Sitara, watching from behind her screen in the 
window of a building hard by, saw the ruler of Turdn 
dismount from his horse and advance on foot to the 
open place where Nadir was seated. To impress the 
people of the conquered country. Nadir had once more 
determined to show himself in all his splendour. He 
sat on his throne wearing his robes of state, and sur- 
rounded by his courtiers in their most magnificent 

As the King was led forward, bending low before his 
conqueror, Nadir did not even rise from his seat, but 
merely acknowledged with a gesture and a few words 
of welcome the homage of a ruler whose reputation 
throughout Asia had once been far greater than his 



own. And for thousands of miles, throughout all the 
teeming bazaars of the East, it was known that the 
pride of Turan had been humbled at the feet of the 
Persian soldier. 

A day or two afterwards the King sent to Nadir the 
diadem he had worn, with some hundreds of camels 
and horses, and some exquisitely written Persian 
manuscripts. It was all he had to offer, and his gifts 
were accepted with something like contempt. The 
scoffing Persians quoted a verse of the Holy Work: 
* Those who possess learning and do not practise what 
it teaches, are like asses loaded with books.' 

Nadir forced the King to release all the Persian 
captives who had been sold to the Bokhariots by the 
Turkoman raiders in days gone by ; and some thousands 
of Uzbegs were enlisted for service in the Persian 

Then Sitara learned, with a pang at her heart, that 
a sister of the fallen King had been taken to wife by 
the man who was all the world to her. She heard the 
sounds of shouting and martial music which announced 
the Uzbeg Queen's arrival, and that night, lying alone 
in her tent, she tasted once more the bitterness which 
the Eastern woman has to know. 



Khiva — lone Khiva in the waste. What memories 
thronged around the name! How many armies had 
perished in the sands of the desert trying to reach its 
fabled towers ! 

But to Nadir the difficulties of the enterprise were 
only a spur. His ambition was aroused. He had 
sworn to enter the magic city in spite of her deserts, 
and the myriads of horsemen who peopled them. For 
generations past their devastating swarms had raided 
the Persian plains. Thousands of miserable captives 
had disappeared into the north at the stirrup of those 
fierce riders, lost for ever to their homes and their 
kindred. He would lift the veil, and lay once for all 
the terror which had so long daunted the hearts of 
his countrymen. 

He was still halted at Bokhara when he received 
news that the army of Khiva was marching southward 
to meet him. The Turkomans had gathered in the 
desert to attack the troops he had left guarding his 
bridge and grain stores. Some of the Kizlbash, who 
had been foraging far to the north among the villages 
on the river, had been cut off. A few of them had 
escaped, and reported the enemy in strength within 
fifty miles of Charjui. 

Nadir marched at once with the main body of the 
force which had taken Bokhara. To ensure the safety 



•of the stores, upon which the existence of his army 
depended, he sent on his son, Reza Khan, with some 
thousands of chosen horse and a hundred ' Zamburaks,' 
or camel guns — Wasps, as they were called — to rein- 
force the river guards. 

Reza Khan accepted the service with eagerness. 
Masterful by nature, and accustomed for two years 
past to a life of independence, he had chafed under the 
return to his father's control, and longed to be free 
once more. His fiery spirit rejoiced at the chance of 
battle and distinction. He received his orders with 
unconcealed delight. 

' Ba chashm,' he said. ' On my eyes be it. The Shah 
does me much honour. What are these dogs of man- 
sellers before the horsemen of the Shah ? Inshallah ! 
we shall sweep them away as the wind sweeps the 
dust of the desert.' 

Nadir listened with a father's pride. He saw in his 
son a kindred spirit, and the words warmed his heart. 
But before all he was a soldier of many wars, and he 
had learned not to despise his enemy. 

* My son,' he said, ' the Turkomans are robbers, and 
there is no weight in their attack ; but they are swift 
and cunning. God knows how many thousands of 
their horsemen are gathered in the desert. I have 
given you important service. Your business is to 
secure the boats and the grain stores. They are the 
life of the army. Take care that you deserve my trust, 
and are not drawn away into any rash fighting before 
I come.' 

Reza Khan promised that he would be careful, but 
through all the respect of his manner there was an 
undertone of impatience. Hardly had he been dis- 
missed before he was in the saddle, and pressing on 


with his horsemen and his * Wasps' across the sixty 
miles which divided Bokhara from the river. 

The sun had hardly risen on the third day when 
Nadir rode to the bridge head at Charjui. The bridge 
was intact, and the broad waters of the Oxus were 
covered with grain boats. The army of Khiva had 
made no attack. Nadir dismounted, and in sight of all 
laid his forehead on the ground and returned thanks 
to God. 

Reza Khan had crossed the river the day before, and 
was out on the plain to the westward. He had left 
word that he would feel the strength of the enemy and 
send back news. 

As the troops came in, fatigued with their long night 
march, Nadir sat in his tent awaiting the arrival of his 
son's messengers. He was now free from any anxiety 
for the safety of his supplies, and he wished to rest his 
men before the action which seemed to be impending ; 
but he gave orders for them to cross the bridge and 
camp on the western bank. Some thousands of them 
had crossed, and more were still defiling over the 
bridge of boats, when he received news which made 
him mount and cross the river himself. Small bodies 
of horsemen were to be seen on the plain to the west- 
ward, and from their movements they were believed 
to be the enemy. If so, they had got behind Reza 
Khan's force, and there was reason to fear that he 
might be in difficulties. 

Nadir rode to the top of a hillock on the western 
bank, and all the troops available were rapidly formed 
up to meet an attack. To his practised eye there was 
no doubt. He knew the Turkomans too well to make 
a mistake. Parties of their spearmen were on the 
plain within a mile or two of the river, advancing 


slowly towards the bridge head. Far away in the 
distance beyond them he could see a cloud of dust 
rising into the clear blue air of the desert. The dust 
was not rising in a long trail, as if made by a column 
on the march, but from one point. 

Suddenly there was a commotion among the Turko- 
mans, who turned their horses and began galloping. 
More dust rose as they moved, but through it he could 
see the glint of their spear-heads. Another moment 
and Nadir made out a single horseman riding straight 
for the bridge. He was coming on at full speed, and 
the Turkomans were closing in upon him from right 
and left. 

The thing could only have one meaning. A messenger 
from Reza Khan was trying to reach the bridge, and 
the Turkomans were doing their best to cut him off. 
Nadir could see the colour of his horse, a grey, and the 
flash of his sword as it rose and fell. He was evidently 
hard pressed, riding for his life. 

Nadir's deep voice thundered out a word of command. 
He raised his axe high over his head and pointed to the 
front. His horse sprang forward, and with a shout 
the long line of his Kizlbash was racing on his track. 
As they went they saw the single horseman swerve to 
avoid some Turkomans who had got in his path, and 
for a moment or two it seemed as if he were sur- 
rounded. Then from the galloping line there was a 
roar of triumph and applause. The grey horse burst 
from the cloud of dust and spear-heads, and came 
straight on. The Turkomans pursued for a few strides, 
then seeing they were too late, wheeled and cantered 
away across the plain. 

Nadir reined in his horse, and the broken ranks of 
the Kizlbash came to a halt. As they did so, the man 


they had rescued galloped up to Nadir, and sprang to 
the ground. His turban had fallen, showing his huge 
shaven head. The blood was streaming from a gash 
across his cheek, and dripping from his beard. The 
long, straight *chura' he held in his hand was dripping 
too. The grey stood with hanging head and labouring 
flanks, his crimson nostrils wide open. 

* Shavash ! shavash ! ' Nadir said, seeing the man was 
an Afghan, 'you rode well. What news have you 

The horseman saluted, recognising the Shah, and 
tried to speak. 

' My Lord,' he said, his breath coming in gasps, * my 
Lord, for God's sake move forward. The Yali Ahd is 
surrounded by the whole of the enemy's army, and 
cannot break through. The Kizlbash have fought like 
Shaitans, and killed thousands of the man-sellers, but 
they are as thick as locusts all over the plain. The 
Kizlbash have been fighting since daybreak, and are 
weary and faint with thirst. Their last attack was 
beaten back, and the Vali Ahd hardly escaped with his 
life. He told a few of us who were well mounted to 
get through if we could while he tried another charge. 
He is holding some sand-hills, and the fire of the 
Wasps has kept off the enemy till now, but the 
ammunition is running low, and there is no water. 
Az barde Khuda — for God's sake — order an advance.' 

Nadir's face grew dark. 

* Who are you ? ' he said, * and can you show the way ? 
You are wounded.' 

*My Lord, it is nothing. Some of their spears 
touched me, but it is nothing. I can show the road. 
I am Nek Kadam, Yusufzai, of the Vali Ahd's body- 


'Shavash!' Nadir said. 'The Yusufzai are men. 
Get your wounds bound up.' 

He turned to give his orders, and before long he was 
advancing across the plain with a considerable force. 

He was angry at having to do it. Some of the troops 
had come with him from Bokhara, and were tired with 
the march. Nadir was loth to call upon them for 
fresh exertions. Moreover, he did not want to engage 
the Khivans in the plain, and with a portion only of 
his army, which he had meant to keep together close 
to the river. It was necessary to rescue Reza Khan, 
for the capture or destruction of the heir-apparent 
and several thousand Kizlbash would have elated the 
Khivans beyond measure, and discouraged his own 
troops. His hand had been forced. But he resented 
it deeply. By neglecting his warnings, Reza Khan had 
endangered the success of the whole expedition. 

As he rode forward, carefully feeling his way, and 
guarding against any attack, his feelings showed them- 
selves. He told Nek Kadam to ride alongside him, and 
questioned the man about all that had gone on the day 
before. It was as he supposed. On arrival at Charjui, 
Reza Khan had crossed the river, and pushed up 
northwards with his horsemen and his Wasps to feel 
for the enemy. So long as he kept to the river-bank 
among the canals and villages, he was safe enough. 
But the Turkomans had worked round his left in the 
desert, and suddenly threatened his rear with a force 
no larger than his own. He had attacked and driven 
them back with little difficulty, but had been tempted 
to pursue them across the plain. At nightfall they had 
drawn him some miles from the river, and his men and 
animals being tired, he had ordered a halt. When day 
broke, he had found himself surrounded, and his fiery 


attacks had been unsuccessful, the Turkomans meeting 
them with steadiness, and perpetually threatening his 
flanks and rear. The manoeuvre was simple and 
obvious, but it had succeeded. Not all the Yusufzai's 
enthusiastic praise of Reza Khan's courage could make 
the angry father excuse him. 

* He fought like a Rustem,' Nek Kadam said, ' riding 
in among the Turkoman spearmen, and striking them 
down with his own hand. They were like children 
before him.' 

* That is the work of the Kizlbash,' Nadir said con- 
temptuously, forgetting for the moment the axe in his 
hand. * If I had not been here to help, how would it 
have ended ? How will it end now ? We may be too 

He checked himself, remembering that he was speak- 
ing of his son. 

* How did you, a Yusufzai, come to be in the Yali 
Ahd's bodyguard ? ' 

'My Lord, the Vali Ahd had heard ' The man 


' Yes, what had he heard ? ' 

* My Lord, forgive me. He had heard that I swam 
the river when the army was in the Yusufzai 

Nadir did not answer. What Reza Khan had done 
was just what he would have done himself, but at the 
moment he was angry. 'So,' he thought, *my son 
chooses his bodyguard from the men who would have 
murdered me.' 

The road to the battlefield was easy to find. The 
plain was bare, without obstacles of any kind, except 
a sand-hill here and there. The cloud of dust was a 
good mark, and the sound of the camel guns was 



becoming audible. Evidently the Persians were still 
holding out. The force pushed on eagerly, forgetting 
their fatigue, and the enemy's outlying swarms fell 
back. Another half-hour's march, and the Turkomans 
were seen to draw off to right and left, leaving Reza 
Khan's position clear. When the two Persian forces 
were within a few hundred yards, Reza Khan himself 
rode out from the line of sand-hills with a small body 
of horsemen. Before meeting his father he dismounted, 
and came forward on foot. He was covered with dust 
and sweat. Nadir received him with a stern face. 

' Is this the way you obey my orders ? ' Nadir said. 
' How can I ever trust you again ? It is the work of a 

Reza Khan flushed up, but stood with bent head at 
his father's stirrup — silent. 

The Turkomans were evidently in great numbers, 
and though they had allowed the Persians to make a 
junction unopposed, they were now seen to be drawn 
up on a long line of sand-hills to the westward, offering 
battle. Their backs were on the desert, a safe refuge 
for them, who were desert born, but a deadly foe to 
the Persian army. And it was already afternoon. 

For a moment Nadir hesitated, knowing that he 
could not pursue them far. Then, as they seemed 
inclined to make a stand, he determined to attack 
them. For his own credit and safety, he must, if 
possible, inflict some punishment before retiring. 

He formed up his troops as rapidly as he could, and 
meanwhile served out to Reza Khan's exhausted men 
some water from the skins he had brought with him 
on trotting camels. They had suffered heavily in their 
repeated attacks, and had seen their wounded comrades 
speared and beheaded by the exulting enemy. Their 


last onset had been half-hearted, and for the time they 
were incapable of further effort. 

While Nadir's comparatively fresh troops were form- 
ing beyond them, leaving them in rear as a reserve, 
Nadir called up the water-carriers whom Reza Khan 
had taken with him. The supply of water camels had 
been small. Two officers who were responsible for 
this were stripped of their turbans in front of the 
troops, and their ears were shorn off. Then they were 
made to mount and ride down the lines bareheaded, 
the blood dripping upon their shoulders. Nadir felt 
that Reza Khan himself was in fault. But for that 
they would have lost their heads instead of their ears. 
The angry soldiers jeered and shouted. 

One of the two officers, Musa Beg, was a fine-looking 
man, who had often distinguished himself in action. 
As he rode down the line, disgraced for life, he cursed 
Nadir under his breath. *Son of a dog,' he muttered, 
* I will not forget.' 

Nadir's well-trained troops moved with swift pre- 
cision, but the sun was already declining when the line 
was formed. There was no time for manoeuvring, 
and against so mobile an enemy it would have been 
useless. The attack must be delivered straight to the 
front. The Turkomans swarming on their sand-hills 
awaited it with confidence. They were exhilarated by 
their partial success, and the darkness would soon come. 

When all was ready. Nadir cantered down the front 
of his troops. The men forgot their fatigue in their 
eagerness, and a roar of cheering went with him down 
the line. The Turkomans answered with shouts of 
defiance, waving their spears. Then Nadir came back 
to the centre of the line, and raised his axe high above 
his head. 



The fight was fierce while it lasted, but it did not last 
long. This was a different thing from Reza Khan's 
fiery onsets. On the right and left compact bodies of 
horsemen, riding at a slow canter stirrup to stirrup, 
drove back the Turkoman wings, and the main 
body of Nadir's troops fell in one long orderly array 
upon their swarming centre. The first shock was met 
steadily enough, but a second line came pouring in 
through the openings left in the first, and after the 
second came a third. It topped the sand-hills like a 
mighty wave, hung a moment on the crest, and then 
poured over with irresistible weight, and down the 
slopes to the westward a broken sea of horsemen went 
rolling into the plain. 

The Turkomans for once had played their enemy's 
game. The pursuit was short, for in Nadir's force men 
and horses were weary, and directly the charge was 
over, the disordered squadrons were stopped and 
re-formed. But the work was done. As they rode 
back over the ground they had won, they found the 
line of sand-hills covered with dead and wounded men, 
of whom by far the greater number were Turkomans. 
The pitiless Kizlbash drove their long lances through 
every form that showed signs of life. A few of the 
Turkomans had worked round the flanks of the charg- 
ing squadrons, but they had been repelled by Reza 
Khan's men. 

The fight was over, and far away to the westward, 
across the sands reddened by the setting sun, the dark 
jwarms of the broken enemy were seen in full 

Slowly and wearily Nadir's victorious troops marched 
back through the gathering darkness towards the 
river. Reza rode by the side of his father, out of ear- 


shot of the escort. His heart was hot with humiliation 
and anger, for Nadir did not spare him. Once or twice, 
stung by some scathing word, he tried to defend him- 

* At least I am no coward,' he said. ' The men will 
tell you how I fought. My sword was red with the 
blood of the Turkoman leaders.' 

* Afrin ! ' Nadir answered. ' Boast like a Persian now 
that you have escaped. But for me you would be 
walking with bound hands at the stirrup of a man- 

* Never ! By God ! I would have died first.' 

* Better have died than come back with shame, out- 
witted and beaten by these dogs of the desert. A 
great thing truly that you fought — as a drunken 
Kizlbash would fight. If you had not done that at 
least, I would have killed you before them all.' 

Nadir's pride had been wounded. He spoke fiercely, 
and said more than he meant. But the words sank 
deep, and that night, as Reza Khan took his leave at 
the door of his father's tent, there was mingled with 
his humiliation a deep resentment at what he con- 
ceived to be Nadir's harshness and injustice. 

And unluckily, before the night was over, Sitara 
made matters worse. After Nadir had taken some 
food, he came to her tent. 

* You are welcome, my Lord,' she said. ' They say 
you have gained a great victory. Thanks be to God.' 

Nadir answered shortly. *A victory over a horde 
of man-sellers ?' he said. *I am ashamed. They have 
killed many of the Kizlbash. If I had not come up in 
time, the whole of the force would have been taken. 
The Kizlbash had eaten defeat, and their livers had 
turned to water. My face has been blackened.' 





'My Lord, it is said that you killed thousands of 
them, and that the Vali Ahd also slew many, that he 
fought like a Rustem.' 

Nadir's wrath blazed up. * Great God!' he said. 
* Fought like a Rustem ! He fought like the fool that 
he is — let himself be drawn into the desert by a trick 
that a child would have understood. What does a 
woman know of such things ? ' 



Reza Khan had gone to his tent sore from Nadir's 
words, and his soreness had been increased by some 
mischievous words on the part of others. 

Ali Akbar had been present when Nadir returned to 
camp, and it had struck him that the opportunity 
might be a good one to advance his own interests. 
Suspecting that something was wrong between father 
and son, he bethought himself of paying a visit to 
Reza Khan, and gaining information as to what had 
passed. He sent a message over to Reza Khan's tent, 
and asked whether he could have the honour of kissing 
the Vali Ahd's feet. Reza Khan agreed, reluctantly 

As Ali Akbar came in, he saw that he had guessed 
right. Reza Khan had been comforting himself with 
a generous allowance of Shiraz. His face was flushed, 
and his eyes bright. But the wine had not brought 
him peace. The flushed face wore an ugly scowl. 

Disregarding the ungracious reception accorded him, 
Ali Akbar broke into voluble congratulations. 

* Forgive me for intruding,' he said, ' but I could not 
refrain from coming to kiss the feet of your Highness. 
Praise be to God that you have come back in safety. 
All the camp is talking about the battle to-day. The 
Kizlbash say your Highness was like a lion chasing 
deer, that from morning to night you rode through 
the man-sellers, smiting and slaying and scattering 


them. They were like dead leaves before the wind. 
I swear by Ali I have never heard of such valour. 
Praise be to God ! ' 

Reza Khan's scowl soon gave way to a look of grati- 
fied vanity. 

*It is your kindness that makes you say so. I did 
nothing. The Kizlbash fought like Shaitans. If I 
killed five or six man-sellers, what is it? They are 
dogs, not men.' 

' Your Highness is accustomed to victory. It seems 
nothing to you now. But the Kizlbash understand. 
They are all struck with wonder. They say no one 
has seen anything like it— even in a dream. Mashallah ! 
They say that even the Shah was wondering too.' 

Reza Khan's face darkened again. 'Many of the 
Kizlbash were killed. The Shah ate much grief on 
their account.' 

* Without doubt. The Shah — may he live for ever — 
always grieves for the loss of his victorious soldiers. 
His heart is very kind. But in war men must die.' 

Ali Akbar had the contempt of the bourgeois for the 
soldier who fights his battles, — the contempt which 
brings nations to ruin. 

He remained talking for an hour, and before he took 
his leave, Reza Khan had told him all he wanted to 
know. He learned with much appearance of surprise 
that the Shah was not pleased with Reza Khan, and 
that Reza Khan thought himself unjustly treated. 
His sympathy was warm, and without saying anything 
definite, he let Reza Khan understand that he thought 
Nadir had been harsh. He even managed to convey in 
the most delicate manner the impression that perhaps 
Nadir thought his son had distinguished himself rather 
too much. 


Reza Khan was not entirely deceived. At the bottom 
of his heart he knew that he had fallen into the trap 
against which Nadir had warned him. But he easily- 
found excuses for his mistake, and when he presented 
himself in the morning at Nadir's tent of audience, 
his manner, though respectful, was cold and sullen. 
Nadir saw it at once, and resented it. 

A day or two later, when Nadir, who thought he had 
been sufficiently punished, spoke to him in private 
about the advance on Khiva, Reza Khan was imprudent 
enough to betray his feelings still more clearly. He 
excused himself from expressing an opinion, and 
inquired whether the Shah wished him to accompany 
the expedition. That was fatal. Nadir felt that he 
required a lesson, and before long he found himself on 
the way back to Persia in charge of the wounded, and 
the superfluous baggage. He was to wait at Meshed 
until the expedition returned. The father and son 
parted without an open quarrel, but it was evident to 
all that Reza Khan was in disgrace. 

After his departure, the force marched northwards, 
along the western bank of the Oxus. There were some 
villages on the way, watered by small canals drawn 
from the river, but most of the ground over which the 
advance was to be made was waste and broken — a 
wilderness of alternate sand and marsh and thicket. 
It offered good opportunities for an enterprising 
enemy, and the advance was made with caution. A 
strong body of cavalry rode far ahead on the left 
flank towards the desert. The main body was formed 
in a hollow square, the baggage in the centre. The 
artillery, with six thousand chosen horse, closely 
followed the river-bank, to protect the grain boats, 
and the flotilla of rafts which carried the AnderAn. 


All the troops had orders to keep their close formation, 
and not to leave the line of march for any attack on 
bodies of the enemy who might threaten them. The 
marches were all made by day, starting after sunrise. 
The Turkomans did, in fact, show themselves at times. 
They hung upon the flanks of the invading force, on 
the watch for an opportunity of striking, or of picking 
up baggage and stragglers; but the discipline of 
Nadir's army was perfectly maintained, and no chance 
ever presented itself. Without losing a man in action, 
the force and its accompanying flotillas arrived on the 
borders of the Khivan oasis. 

The troops had suffered some distress from the 
suffocating clouds of dust through which the great 
square had to march day after day, but they were 
otherwise in good health and spirits. 

After their arrival in Khivan territory proper, there 
was a little fighting. The Khivans had some consider- 
able forts, with mud walls of no great strength, but 
surrounded by reedy marshes which made attack 
difficult. These, however, offered no prolonged resist- 
ance ; and the Turkoman raiders of the desert, shrink- 
ing from a second conflict with Nadir's veterans, kept 
aloof in their steppes. Before long the Khan and his 
Court were prisoners in the Persian camp. The strong- 
hold of the man-sellers, the fabled city which could 
never be reached by an invader, had fallen almost 
without a blow. Forethought and organisation had 
triumphed, as they will always triumph, over difficulties 
of distance and ground. 

Seven thousand Persian slaves, men and women, 
were surrendered by the Khivans and sent back to 
their own country. Many of them had been so long in 
slavery that they had no desire to return; many died 


on the march from cold and want; and those who 
reached Persia again found it so devastated by con- 
stant war, that they heartily regretted their liberation. 
But they were all sent off, and after them, as a warning 
for the future. Nadir sent an equal number of Khivans, 
men and women, to expiate as slaves in Persia the 
misdeeds of their countrymen. The long-standing 
insult to the majesty of Iran had been fully avenged. 

Nadir knew that the mud-built towers of Khiva 
were not worth looting, and he had no wish to rouse 
the enmity of the population, which meant trouble in 
collecting supplies. He had therefore given orders 
that the inhabitants should not be molested. But in 
every eastern army there are some who cannot resist 
such a temptation ; and a body of his troops, among 
them a number of Yusufzai recruits, who had left 
their barren mountains in the hope of enriching them- 
selves, broke into the bazaar and began to plunder. 

Nadir was away at some distance, and they thought 
themselves secure ; but his spies were everywhere, and 
he soon got news that his orders had been disobeyed. 
The culprits were brought before him. Some were 
officers, and these he ordered to be beheaded. His 
executioners hated the work, for plunder seemed to 
them the legitimate reward of victory ; but none dared 
to murmvir. * A father,' it is said, ' beheaded a son, and 
a brother a brother, and yet presumed not to complain.' 
For two days the headless trunks lay where they had 
fallen, an example to all of the results of disobedience. 

But one brave man had dared to complain. Among 
the condemned was a brother of Nek Kadam, whom 
Nadir had detached from Reza Khan's bodyguard, 
and appointed to a better post, as a reward for his 
gallantry in the fight at Charjui. When the order 


was given, Ned Kadam was rash enough, or generous 
enough, to imperil his life in trying to save his brother. 
He made his way to Nadir's presence and asked to 
be heard. 

'What is it?' Nadir said when the man appeared 
before him. 

' My Lord, I have a petition. I want justice, * insaf .' It 
is known to the Shah that the Yusufzai are poor. They 
have no horses, and have marched for a year on foot, 
bearing many fatigues and doing much service. Now 
winter has come, and they are perishing from cold. 
They have no money to buy clothes. My brother was 
tempted and took a postln, a skin coat, and for this 
he has been condemned to death. I ask for justice. 
Let him live and go back to Yusufzai.' 

Nadir heard the man to the end, and he answered 
without anger. 

' What I have ordered I have ordered,' he said. * The 
Yusufzai are men, but if they commit offences, they 
must suffer like the rest. That is justice.' He turned 
to the chief of his Nasakchis. *Let the order be 
carried out.' 

Nek Kadam's eyes flashed, and a fierce scowl came 
over his face. He laid his hand on the hilt of his 
chiira. * Ins^f nist — it is not justice,' he said in a loud 
voice. The words were hardly out of his mouth when 
he was seized by a score of hands and held securely. 
He made no useless struggle. 

* Now give the order to kill me,' he called out. * Let 
all know how the Shah rewards those who serve 

Nadir paused a moment. 

*You tried to murder me once, but it is true that 
you have done service. Though you have deserved 


death, I will spare you. You will be taken back to 
the Afghan border in chains and there released.' 

As the guard removed him, Nek Kadam laughed 

Nadir had less mercy on the fallen ruler of Khiva. 
The Khan had surrendered in the hope that his life 
would be spared. But until Nadir's array was surround- 
ing his last fort, he had trusted in his deserts and 
marshes, and sent messages of defiance. Nadir kept 
him alive until he had witnessed the feasting and ' fire- 
play' with which the conquest of his country was 
celebrated in his own capital. Then he was strangled, 
and his wives and children were distributed as slaves 
among the Persians. 



The conquest of Khiva had been completed only just 
in time. As Nadir marched back along the Oxus to 
Charjui the winter was setting in, and snow had begun 
to fall heavily. 

He had determined to return to Persia, not by the 
long route through Balkh, but straight across the 
Turkoman desert. The oasis of Merv, afterwards the 
'last home of the free lance,' was then in Persian 
hands, and Nadir rightly judged that the nomads of 
the steppes had been so cowed by their defeat, and the 
fall of Khiva, that they would not molest his march. 
Even before Khiva fell he had sent orders for the 
digging of wells in the desert, and for the collection of 
great numbers of water-skins. 

These were now reported ready, and after a toilsome 
march of four days the force reached Merv. There 
was no opposition, but many of the Yusufzais, who 
had no horses, died of cold and fatigue, bitterly 
regretting that they had ever been tempted to leave 
their mountain homes for the hope of booty. By the 
time the survivors arrived on Persian soil they hated 
with the unforgiving hatred of their race the man who 
had deceived them. 

It was intensely cold, and the ruined city of Merv 
offered little to tempt the suffering troops ; so after a 
few days' halt Nadir pressed on again, and about the 


end of the year the army was once more in Khurasan. 
Here he was among his own tribesmen, who received 
him with every demonstration of joy. 

He halted a few days, and deposited in the great 
natural fortress of Kelat, which was the home of his 
fathers, the bulk of his jewels and treasure. Ringed 
round by inaccessible mountains Kelat was a fit 
stronghold in which the robber King could store away 
the plunder of Empires, and there it remained un- 
touched until his death. 

Leaving it safe he marched away, and towards the 
end of January he was again in Meshed the Holy, 
where year by year thousands of pilgrims come to 
worship at the shrine of the great Imam. He had 
known Meshed all his life, and it was the chief city of 
his native province, the outwork of Persia. Nadir had 
determined to restore it to all its former grandeur, 
and had selected it for his own place of burial. While 
absent in India andTartary he had caused his mausoleum 
to be built. It was here that his wrath was stirred by 
finding that even now, at the very zenith of his power 
and splendour, his name was beginning to be execrated 
by the Persians. He had hardly arrived in Meshed 
when one morning there was found carefully written 
upon the marble wall of the tomb a couplet which ran 
as follows : — 

' There is not a song without your name, 
The world is full of you, while your proper place is empty.' 

The lines were hastily erased by the man in charge 
of the building, but it was too late. Nadir's spies had 
brought him the news. He laughed and took no notice, 
but the jest rankled in his mind. 

It was used with effect by Ali Akbar. He had 
pondered long and carefully upon the position of Reza 



Khan, and had discussed the matter with the Shirazi. 
Eventually, after carefully weighing the arguments on 
both sides, the brother and sister had come to the 
conclusion that their interests would be best served by 
throwing the weight of their influence against Reza 
Khan, and fomenting as far as they could with safety 
to themselves the growing quarrel between him and 
his father. That it was growing they had little doubt. 
Since his return to Meshed in disgrace Reza Khan had 
more than once spoken imprudently, and his words 
were sure to have reached Nadir's ears. 

True, Reza Khan might hereafter become ruler of the 
country, but Nadir was in robust health, so that such a 
contingency might without much danger be disregarded, 
while it would be fatal to let Nadir suspect that they 
had any sympathy for his son. 

They saw, moreover, that Reza Khan might, if recon- 
ciled to his father, become a dangerous enemy to their 
party. He had taken to his father's habit of speaking 
contemptuously of the Persians, and this not only 
alarmed them but wounded their national vanity. 
Men will forgive injuries; they will not forgive con- 
tempt. Ali Akbar was no patriot. He would not 
have risked a drop of his blood for the sake of his 
country. But he was a Persian of the Persians, and 
he resented any attacks upon the character of his 

So did his sister. ' The Vali Ahd,' she said. * What 
thing is the Vali Ahd? What is he but a Turkoman 
rider, with the brains of a camel? He has shown 
that he cannot even fight, and he is too great a fool 
to control his tongue. He is certain to come to trouble. 
Let us show him whether the Persians are fools like 


So it was agreed that though they would have to 
act warily, they would do what they could to harm 
him with his father ; and the couplet on the mausoleum 
was, if opportunity offered, to be attributed to him or 
his people, eager for his succession to his father's 

Reza Khan soon saw that Ali Akbar's attitude to- 
wards him had changed. There was no more seeking 
for interviews and enthusiastic flattery. Ali Akbar 
was civil enough, but only civil. Reza Khan, who had 
never liked or trusted him, began to suspect that the 
Persian's flatteries had been employed for a purpose, 
and that his own words had been carried to the ears of 
his father. 

Since the army had returned to Meshed, Nadir had 
not humiliated him any further. At times Nadir had 
even seemed to be friendly enough, as indeed he was. 
His love for his son was not dead. But he looked for 
signs of penitence and affection, which he did not find, 
and his heart hardened. The fact was that they were 
too much alike. Both were proud and self-willed, and 
neither would make any real advance. 

Matters were in this state when one evening Nadir 
invited Reza Khan and Ali Akbar to join him after he 
had dined. They had been talking pleasantly enough, 
when Nadir called for a cup of wine. 

* I am thirsty to-night,' he said, * as thirsty as if I were 
in the desert of the man-sellers.' 

Ali Akbar laughed. *I saw to-day Musa Beg, who 
was in charge of the water camels at Charjui. He 
wears his turban very low now.' 

'Pidr sukhteh,' Nadir answered, *son of a burnt 
father. He may thank God that he has his life. He 
was an ass, and his ears were too long.' 



'Yes. The Shah was very merciful to him. He 
deserved death. They say the Kizlbash were hanging 
out their tongues like waterless dogs when the Shah 
came up.' 

Reza Khan resented any reference to the fight at 
Charjui, as Ali Akbar was well aware. 

*What do you know about it?' he said insolently. 
'You were not there. I have never heard that you 
are to be seen when a fight is going on.' 

Ali Akbar flushed up and laughed. * This slave ! ' he 
said. * Why should I be there ? I am a man of the 
pen, not a man of the sword.' 

' Then why do you speak ? The Kizlbash were fight- 
ing like Rustems. It is not for men who keep out of 
the field to jeer at them.' 

Nadir interposed. 'Ali Akbar is right enough,' he 
said. ' Your men were tired of fighting. Their hearts 
had burst. He says only what every one knows.' 

Ali Akbar was silent, and sat with bowed head, 
hiding the triumph in his eyes. Reza was silent too, for 
he dared not answer Nadir, but he was white with 
rage, and Nadir saw it. 




Winter had not yet given place to spring when Nadir, 
impatient to be once more in the field, marched away 
from Meshed towards the west. 

During his expedition to India he had received news 
that the Lesghian mountaineers of the Caucasus had 
defeated and killed his brother Ibrahim, and he had 
vowed vengeance against them. Now that kingdom 
after kingdom had fallen before his arms, he had some 
ground for thinking that the same care and organisa- 
tion which had triumphed over the mountains of 
Afghanistan and the deserts of the Turkomans would 
enable him to break down the resistance of the Cau- 
casian tribesmen. His forces were assembling in the 
open country about Tehran, and there he meant to 
join them. 

His start was inauspicious, for as the Kurk marched 
away from the holy city a fierce snowstorm was raging ; 
and Sitara, inured to cold as she had become during the 
long marches to Khiva and Merv, felt chilled to the 
heart as she rode with bent head into the cutting 
wind of the plain. She was out of spirits too, for 
during her stay in Meshed Nadir had been less with 
her, and when he came to her she had found him 
depressed and troubled. The attitude of Reza Khan 
was weighing upon his mind. Once or twice he spoke 
to her on the subject, and she could see that the 
conflict between his love for his son and his anger 


at Reza Khan's sullenness was depriving him of his 

' And to be wroth with one we love 
Doth work like madness in the brain.' 

Sitara thought Reza Khan in the wrong, and she 
said so, but anxious not to make mischief, she did not 
say much in that sense. In fact she said too little, 
and gave Nadir the impression that she did not sym- 
pathise with him as warmly as he had a right to 
expect. No woman, he thought, had ever been loved 
by him as she had been. Surely her heart should have 
been wholly on his side ? Surely she at least should have 
understood ? 

The snow ceased, but only to give place to the heavy 
spring rains, which flooded the rivers, and made the 
roads deep with clinging mire. Day after day Nadir 
rode on, moody and dissatisfied, and apparently re- 
gardless of the sufferings of his troops, many of 
whom fell by the way, exhausted with fatigue and 

The Agha Bashi had watched with keen regret, but 
without surprise, the growing estrangement between 
father and son, and he had seen that some of Nadir's 
people, notably Ali Akbar and his sister, were foment- 
ing it for purposes of their own. He had not dared to 
do much on the other side, for Nadir was in a dangerous 
temper. Moreover, in coramon with Sitara, he felt that 
Reza Khan was in the wrong. But the whole thing 
grieved and disturbed him. He saw that it was distress- 
ing Nadir, and doing him harm, for in spite of all, Reza 
Khan was a favourite with the troops, and the hardships 
of the march were beginning to cause discontent and 
murmuring among them. 

And, what to the Agha Bashi's mind was a specially 


bad sign, Nadir had of late been frequently spending 
his nights in the tent of the Shirdzi. He feared that 
Sitara's influence was on the wane, and that the powers 
of evil were growing stronger. 

They marched to the low-lying country south of the 
Caspian Sea, and were halted at Ashref, when one 
evening the Agha Bashi and Sitara found themselves 
together. She had been sitting alone, brooding over 
the change in Nadir's manner. The sun had set, and 
the garden in which the Anderun had found quarters 
being some way from the town, all was quiet about her. 
As the night fell and the silence deepened she was aware 
of a faint, distant murmur which was new to her. When 
the Agha Bashi joined her she asked him whether he 
heard it. 

' Yes, Khanum,' he said with a smile. * The Persians 
would tell you it was the roaring of the demons. They 
say Mazanderan is the land of Divs and Jins. It is the 
sound of the sea. We are not far from the shore of 
the Caspian. In a few days more we shall be in 

* I do not like it. It makes my heart heavy.' 
The Agha Bashi looked at her with a grave face. 

* Khanum, the sound of the sea would not make your 
heart heavy if things were going well. They are not 
going well.' 

Sitara flushed, and was silent. 

* Khanum, I know what is going on. Ali Akbar and 
the Shirazi are doing badi. The Shah is angry about 
the Vali Ahd, and they are blowing the fire. Have you 
been defending him ? It is dangerous for you.' 

* I know it. I have said little. But it is bad that they 
should quarrel. It is bad for the Shah. It is making 
him unliappy.' 


'Khanuin, for God's sake leave that alone. You 
can do no good, and may do yourself harm. I think 
the Shah will come to-night. Try to make him forget 
it all.' 

Sitara sighed. * I will try,' she said. * God knows I 
think only of him.' 

Nadir came to her as the Agha Bashi had guessed, 
and she received him with a pathetic effort to please 
him. She tried hard to be bright and cheerful, and to 
avoid anything that could remind him of his trouble. 
But when he left her in the morning she was conscious 
that she had failed. He had been kind and gentle to 
her, but he had seemed silent and weary, and try as she 
would she could not rouse him and draw him out of 
himself. It had been a failure, and when he had gone 
she lay in her tent, with her face in her cushions, 

* It is no use,' she said to herself. * I am not witty and 
bright like the Shirazi. She does not love him, but she 
can laugh and talk and amuse him, and he is going from 
me. It is all over. He is tired of me now. Soon he will 
come no more, and I shall die.' 

She underrated her power over him, but it was true 
that for the time the Shirazi was doing mischief. Little 
as Nadir loved or trusted her, her flattery and her 
implied condemnation of Reza Khan were in accord 
with his mood. 

The army marched on again through the jungle of 
Mazanderan, along the stone causeway built by the 
last of the great Shahs of a former time, and soon they 
were in the mountains of the Elburz. 

One morning they entered a narrow pass where 
the rocks closed in on either side, until there was 
no room for flanking parties of troops. They were 


in Persia now, not in an enemy's country, and there 
seemed to be no need for special care. The flanking 
parties had closed in upon the road and passed 
on in advance. Nadir was riding without escort 
among his ladies. Immediately behind them came a 
body of musicians, all women, who were playing and 
singing to lighten the tedium of the march. Behind 
them again rode the Agha Bashi with some armed 
eunuchs, and then, some distance away, a detach- 
ment of troops bringing up the rear of the Kurk. 
The road wound through the rocky spurs, and at 
one specially narrow point there were two sharp turns 
in succession. 

Nadir rode moodily along at a walk, his head bent, 
and his eyes on the ground before him. He had been 
talking at intervals to Sitara and the Shirazi, but 
had gradually become silent, and they had dropped 
back behind him. As the little party reached the 
narrowest part of the pass it was for the moment 
isolated. The soldiers in front were out of sight. 
Sitara had watched the spear-heads file round the 
corner and disappear. The armed eunuchs and the 
troops which followed them had not yet come into 
view behind. 

At the foot of the steep mountain-side to the left was 
a small patch of broken ground, where some rocks had 
fallen from above, and had been overgrown with bushes. 
As Nadir's horse came nearly level with the rocks 
Sitara's eyes happened to rest upon them, and with a 
sudden thrill at her heart she caught among the bushes 
a glint of steel. 

It was gone in an instant, but the Shirazi's quick 
eye had caught it too. *What is that?' she said 
sharply. As she spoke Sitara, who was riding on 



the left, dashed the point of her stirrup into her 
horse's shoulder, and sprang forward with a cry of 
warning. Nadir started, but she was just too late. 
There was a puff of smoke among the rocks; a shot 
rang out; and Nadir's horse went down with a 
bullet through its withers. Nadir was on his feet 
in an instant, his axe in his hand. By his side, 
covering him from another shot, was the Rajput girl. 

As the screams of the frightened women rang down 
the pass two men sprang from the bushes. They stood 
for a second in full view, then turned with a defiant 
wave of their swords, leapt from rock to rock, and 
disappeared up the broken hillside. 

Nadir stood breathing hard on the spot where he 
had fallen. He was bareheaded, for the fall had 
dislodged his turban, and his left hand was stream- 
ing with blood, but he was evidently not much hurt. 
Before his assailants were out of sight the Agha 
Bashi and his armed eunuchs came galloping up 
through the throng of women, and a cluster of spear- 
heads showed round the point in front. A dozen 
men dismounted and dashed up the mountain-side in 

Nadir replaced his turban and watched them quietly, 
rolling a handkerchief round his wrist, which the bullet 
had grazed. 

* It is useless,' he said. ' They are mountain men, and 
the Kizlbash will never get near them. They looked 
like Afghans.' 

The matchlock found in the bushes told no tales. 

The Kurk was soon on the march again, and Nadir 
called up Sitara to his side. ' Always ready, little one,' 
he said. ' This is the second time.' And for the moment 
the soreness against her passed away from his heart. 



During the rest of the day Nadir, as he rode along 
towards his next camp, turned the matter over and 
over in his mind, trying to guess at the reasons for the 
crime, and to think who was most likely to be con- 
cerned in it. He felt that for such an oifence an 
example must be made, or he would never be safe. 

He was nearly at the end of the day's march, and 
had passed in review the names of a large number of 
men whom he had injured, when there flashed across 
his mind the recollection of the officers beheaded at 
Khiva, and of the Yusufzai who had defied him. He 
had spared Nek Kadam's life partly from an honest 
admiration for his courage, partly from a capricious 
desire to show his troops how magnanimous he could 
be ; but even at the moment he had wondered at his 
own generosity, and felt that it would be wiser to put 
the man to death. Now it came to him with a sudden 
conviction that Nek Kadam's hand had fired the shot. 

*The two men went up the rocks like wild-goats,' he 
thought. ' Even then I knew they were Afghans and 
hill-men. The Yusufzai tried to murder me before. 
Why should he not try again ? He laughed and looked 
dangerous when I spared him, and with these hill-men 
it is always a life for a life. He is brave, and he has 
cause to hate me. And . . . Great God! he was of 
Reza Khan's bodyguard.' 



As the horrible suspicion came into his mind Nadir 
repelled it fiercely; but, once there, it was not to be 
driven out. When he rode into camp that evening it 
had fastened upon him ; and before morning, brooding 
over his son's behaviour during the last few months, he 
had almost come to believe that Reza Khan might be 
guilty of plotting his death. 

In any case the Yusufzai must be found. Nadir's 
spies were everywhere, and they would be able to trace 
the man in any part of his vast dominions. Before 
mounting for another day's ride he had sent out the 
necessary orders. 

It was already dark, a warm evening in May, when 
the Kurk reached camp before their last march. Next 
day they were to enter Tehran, the northern town 
which Nadir Shah had practically made his capital 
instead of Ispahan, far away to the south, the royal 
city of former dynasties. 

Ispahan was in the centre of Persia, nearly equi- 
distant between the two seas, and had been well chosen 
for a national capital. In the course of time splendid 
palaces and mosques, adorned with exquisite tile-work 
and inlaid stone and carved wood, had arisen on the 
banks of its flowing river. Massive bridges spanned 
the broad channel of water and sand. Avenues of 
lofty plane-trees and beautiful gardens, watered by 
streams from the surrounding mountains, had made it 
a mass of verdure. The country round was fertile and 
well cultivated. 

In the great central square the royal troops had held 
their parades, and the horse-loving Persian^ had 
assembled in thousands to watch the national game of 
* chaugan,' polo, played by princes and nobles. 

In Nadir's time Ispahan had fallen from its former 


splendour. The tile-work had dropped in patches from 
its glittering domes ; the palaces were some of them in 
ruins; and there were unsightly gaps in the vast 
avenues which made its pride. Still, even in its decay, 
Ispahan was a royal city. 

But, for a soldier like Nadir, Ispahan was too far 
away from the frontiers where his armies were always 
at war. Tehran, comparatively close to the Caspian, 
was better suited for his operations. From there he 
could march north or east or west by the great caravan 
routes which converged at this point, and could more 
easily bring together the northern recruits who filled 
his armies. 

The town itself, compared with Ispahan, was a poor 
place. Its narrow-roofed bazaars, and mean houses of 
mud or sun-dried brick, were enclosed by a wall of no 
great height or strength. And around the town lay 
a tract of stony plain. But water was plentiful, and 
supplies could be got from the villages nestling under 
the slopes of the neighbouring mountains. Strategi- 
cally the position was good. And Nadir the usurper 
preferred to live away from the ancient capital, with 
its traditions of the great days still cherished by a 
people whom he hated. 

Nadir's formal entry into Tehran was to take place 
in the morning, and the camp was astir soon after day- 
break. The Anderun had been given quarters in a 
garden a few miles from the city ; and when Sitara had 
made herself ready for the short march which lay 
before her, she climbed up the steep brick stair which 
led to the flat roof of the house in which she had slept. 
A low parapet, topped with open blue tile -work, 
ran round the roof, and through this she could gaze 




In spite of the barrenness of the surrounding country, 
an exclamation of wonder and delight broke from her 
lips. It was a cool, fresh morning, and the sky was 
without a cloud. The heat mist of the day had not 
yet formed, and in the pure crystalline air of that dry 
country everything stood out with exquisite clearness. 
To the southward lay the great plain, dotted here and 
there with villages or walled gardens, green oases in 
the waste. Ranges of rocky mountains broke the sky- 
line ; some near, some far distant. Their treeless sides 
were beautiful with colour. To the north, beyond the 
stony glacis over which the army had marched the day 
before, stretched the long line of the Elburz, a chain of 
lofty summits crowned with snow. Fans of verdure 
pushed up into the folds at their base. Above them 
the great white cone of Demavend, topped by its fire- 
less crater, towered into the blue. 

All about her were the tents of the army, teeming 
with picturesque life : marching horsemen, and lines of 
rising dust, and the glimmer of steel. At her feet was 
the walled garden. The cold mountain stream which 
watered it ran in by a covered way through the lower 
part of the house, and passed into the sunlight, glanc- 
ing and murmuring in a channel of blue tile-work, 
from which it was drawn off in numberless rivulets 
through avenues of poplars and planes and fruit trees. 
The spring violets and white iris which had lined their 
banks a few weeks before, and made the whole air 
sweet, had given place to the rich colour and scent of 
innumerable roses. In the thicket under the wall the 
nightingales had built their nests, and laid their olive- 
coloured eggs ; and even now, in the midst of the camp, 
they were singing as if all the world were at peace. A 
crested hoopoe sat on the parapet near its hole in the 


wall of the house, and its soft, fluty call mingled with 
the song of the nightingales. The air was full of 

Sitara stood for a few minutes enjoying it all, her 
heart steeped in the sights and sounds of the delicious 
morning. Then the kettledrums of the Kurk rolled 
out the signal for the march, and with a sigh she 
turned towards the south-west, where a dim belt of 
smoke, pierced by a few domes and minars, showed the 
place of the city. She knew how the reaction after a 
period of camp life always troubled Nadir ; and she 
wished it had not come to an end. 

It was near noon when the Kurk passed through the 
tawdry gateway of brick and tile-work which pierced 
the crenellated wall. The glory of the morning had 
faded. The short march had been dusty and weari- 
some. Lines of captured cannon were drawn up to 
right and left, and serried ranks of troops kept back 
the townspeople. Nadir had donned once more his 
golden helmet and gorgeous trappings, and he was 
greeted with enthusiasm by the gazing crowd; but 
when the closed takht i ravans, or mule litters, which 
hid from all eyes the ladies of the Court, followed 
him into the palace, Sitara felt tired and depressed. 

Of course the main topics of conversation in the city 
were the late attempt on the Shah's life and the dis- 
grace of Reza Khan, who was now virtually a prisoner. 
All sorts of rumours were afloat, and it was inevitable 
that in a country where jealousy between the monarch 
and his heir-apparent were the standing rule, the two 
things should be connected in men's minds. Who, in 
truth, had so much to gain by the Shah's death as the 
man who would step at once from his prison to the 
throne ? 



Nadir himself had failed to clear his mind of the 
suspicion. He still resisted it, for he had loved the 
boy and been proud of him ; but there was no denying 
the fact that since Reza Khan had tasted the sweets of 
independence and power he had become headstrong 
and impatient of control. And of late he had met his 
father's advances, such as they were, with persistent 
sullenness. Nadir had, therefore, some excuse for 
thinking that Reza Khan might not be sorry to see him 
removed. It was a horrible suspicion, but in that age 
and country it was natural enough. And Nadir was 
not made less suspicious by the knowledge that Reza 
Khan was a favourite with the army and the people. 

Nadir said nothing about the matter to Sitara, or 
indeed to any one ; but in course of time the talk of 
the town came to her ears, and before long she felt 
sure from Nadir's manner that the idea had occurred to 
him. It distressed her, for she said that it was making 
him unhappy ; and she could do nothing to help him. 
Until he spoke of his own accord she could only 
remain silent on the subject. 

Nadir had brought with him from India a famous 
* hakim,' or physician, Alavi Khan, whom he had found 
in attendance on the Moghul Emperor. Alavi Khan 
was not an Indian, but a Persian from Shirdz, who had 
sought service in India, and married an Indian wife. 
He was an example of the best type of Persian, a man 
skilful in his profession, with old-fashioned, courteous 
manners, and a singular gentleness of character. With 
his gentleness were combined a firmness and independ- 
ence not common among his countrymen. His great 
age and his reputation as a physician gave him excep- 
tional weight, and it was soon found that he had 
gained much influence with Nadir, who always treated 


him with the highest consideration. On the march he 
was carried in Nadir's own * takht i ravan,' and it 
was noticed that while he was in Nadir's tent even 
the Shah's sons were kept standing outside in rain 
or snow. 

The Hakim had been robbed while the troops were in 
Tartary, and had earned the laughter and respect of all 
around him by refusing to move in the matter lest 
innocent men should be punished. 

His influence was steadily exerted in favour of justice 
and mercy, and Nadir took the Hakim's advice in such 
good part that in the words of one who accompanied 
him from India, * for a fortnight together he would not 
order the discipline of the stick, much less command 
any one to be deprived of his eyes or life.' 

During their two years of marching Sitara had made 
the acquaintance of the good Hakim, whom Nadir had 
more than once sent to attend upon her when she had 
suffered from fatigue and exposure, and there had 
grown up between the two a feeling of friendship and 
sympathy. The Agha Bashi was the friend of both, 
and the three together had done much during those 
two years to soften Nadir's punishments. 

When the attempt upon Nadir's life took place the 
Hakim was in camp, and he had attended to the Shah's 
wounded hand. He had taken the opportunity of 
speaking a word in season. 

*It is nothing, Hakim Bashi,' Nadir said, *a mere 
scratch. The scoundrels were too frightened to shoot 
straight. But, by God, they shall repent it. I know 
who my enemies are, and their punishment will be 
such as men remember. Even you would not spare 
treacherous murderers.' 

* God forbid. Those who conspire against the Shah's 

< ^ 
> s 



life are deserving of death. But let the Shah forgive 
me if I represent for the service of the Shah what is 
in my mind. I hope the Shah will take care that 
punishment falls on the guilty alone.' 

' You are too scrupulous, Hakim Sahib. It is not 
always easy to prove such things, and the Shah's life 
must be made safe.' 

' I pray the Shah to forgive me if I say again what 
I have said before. It is necessary for kings some- 
times to show hardness. But hardness without justice 
causes hatred as well as fear. It may be that if there 
had been less hardness this thing would not have been 
done. The Shah knows best, but to this slave it seems 
that there is room for reflection.' 

Nadir listened with the curious patience which he 
always showed under the old man's lectures. 

* You are a good man, Hakim Sahib,' he said at last, 
* and I will be careful. But treachery and murder must 
;be punished.' 

Yet the Hakim's words had their effect. A few days 
afterwards two Afghans were brought before Nadir 
charged with the deed. Nadir's people were afraid that 
if they failed to produce the criminals his anger would 
be turned upon them, and they were anxious to show 
their zeal and vigilance. The death of a couple of 
innocent men was nothing to them if it would avert 
danger from themselves. This time they made a mis- 
take. Nadir went into the case thoroughly, and soon 
saw that there was nothing in it. He released the 
Afghans with a present, and turned fiercely on their 

' Is this the way you serve the Shah ? ' he said. ' Am 
I a fool that you think to blacken my face and bring a 
bad name upon me with such lies as this ? Go and find 


the real criminals. I know who my enemies are. If 
any more innocent men are accused your heads will 
pay for it.' 

The weeks wore on, and the summer heat began. In 
the garden of the Tehran palace, where Sitarawas lodged, 
among the plane-trees and sheets of ornamental water, 
it was cool enough, but in the narrow streets around 
it the air was oppressive. The stench from the open 
sewers poisoned it. The snow and mud of spring had 
turned into a thick layer of dust, which rose in clouds 
as the feet of men and animals stirred it up. The pits 
where ice had been stored during the winter were 
opened, and the ice-sellers were driving a great trade.^ 
Outside the walls the stony plain lay shimmering in 
the glare, and every line of marching men or string of 
camels raised a long trail of dust. The snow patches 
on the mountain-range to the north were shrinking 
daily. Soon there would be nothing left but little 
white triangles in the gullies, and then they too would 
fade away. 

Nadir was impatient to be on the march again. 
Already the army with which he was about to attack 
the mountaineers of the Caucasus was assembled at 
Kasvin, a hundred miles away to the westward, beyond 
the long blue point where the mountain-range ran 
down into the plain. But he still had work to do, and 
above all he felt that he must not leave his capital 
before he had found the men who had attempted his 
life, and dealt out punishment. 

As the weeks went on his impatience increased. 

1 In Tehrdn the sun is hot, even in winter, and ice rarely lasts in the 
open. But by building very high mud walls, and digging a shallow 
trench along the northern side of them, the Persians get as much ice as 
they want. 



He allayed it at times by spending a day or two in 
the camp, galloping impetuously over the flat road to 
Kasvin at a pace which tried his following, and left 
many horses to die by the wayside. But each time 
that he returned he seemed more impatient and 

To Reza Khan in his prison quarters within the 
palace, and to Sitara, hardly less a prisoner, the time 
passed heavily. The girl was sad and anxious. After 
the attempt on Nadir's life she had for a time seemed 
to be as close to his heart as ever, but this had not 
lasted long. Now he came to her less and less often 
every week, and when he came his moods were change- 
able. Occasionally he was as he had been at first, and 
her spirits rose. Oftener the old gentleness seemed to 
have left him, and fits of fiery passion alternated with 
hours of silence and gloom. 

Of Reza Khan he never spoke now. She more than 
once gave him an opening for doing so, and he said 
nothing, or said a word or two which were worse than 
nothing. His silence was eloquent. She knew that 
the shadow of his suspicion was darkening upon his 
soul, and yet he would not come to her for help. What 
could she think except that he no longer trusted 



But though the shadow was gathering upon him, Nadir 
Shah was not always under its influence, and one 
night he walked suddenly into Sitara's room with 
a smile on his face. She had riot expected him, for 
he had been away a day or two on one of his visits 
to the camp at Kasvin. 

* My Lord ! ' she said, with a look of glad surprise, ' I 
thought you were with the army.' 

* So I was, little one, but I was tired of being alone, 
and your face came to me when I was sitting in the 
Diwan Khaneh this morning. The horses are always 
ready on the road, and I came in.' 

* In one day, and in this heat ? ' 

'Yes, I wanted you, and I am not yet soft. I have 
been a soldier all my life. It is well that the troops 
should see that I can still ride a few score miles if 
need be.' 

* And you came for me ? ' 

*Yes, I came for you. But I was tired of the camp 

* It makes my heart warm again. But you have not 
been ill, my Lord ? You always seem so well and 
happy in the camp.' 

* I was tired of it. The army is ready to march, and 
there was nothing to be done, so I was discussing things 
with some muUas, and the pidr sukhtehs always 
tire me.' 


* The mullas ? What trouble are they making 

' No trouble, but one day when I was on the march 
to Bokhara there was some talk about a verse in the 
Koran, some silly little difference between Sunnis and 
Shias, and that fool Mirza Mehdi quoted the Heavenly 
books. So to get rid of him I told him to go to the 
Jews and Christians, and get copies of their Scriptures. 
He came into camp the other day from Ispahan with 
a camel load of books, and a swarm of mullas and 
Jews and Armenians, to prove that the heretic dogs of 
Shias are right.' 

' Who is Mirza Mehdi ? ' 

* He is an ass. " Khar ba tashdid," a doubled ass.^ 
He wants a place, and thinks he is wiser than Plato. 
He has done the pilgrimage to Mecca, and tries to talk 
like an Arab at the back of his throat. He comes to 
the Diwan Khaneh and quotes poetry and the Koran 
till I am sick and want to make him eat sticks. Some 
day I shall.' 

Sitara smiled. *My Lord has punished men for 

' Yes. He is a chattering fool, and the son of a burnt 
father. But sometimes he makes me laugh, and I have 
been merciful to him. Once he was talking about his 
sea- voyage to Mecca, so I told him to go and command 
the ships on the Caspian.' 

* What does he know about commanding ships ? ' 

* Nothing, but as much as any of these Persian dogs. 
And I thought he might get drowned.' 

* It seems that he was not drowned.' 

* No. The ways of God are past understanding. But 
he was very sick, and he wrote to Ali Akbar begging to 

^ Tashdid is the mark over a letter which shows that it is double. 


be recalled. He said the Caspian was not like other 
seas, but shallow and turbulent, and that it was taking 
his very soul from him. I remember he added that the 
comparison held good with regard to men, for he had 
observed that those of the deepest understanding were 
the least loquacious. Ali Akbar read out his letter and 
laughed till I thought he would die. He likes having 
the fool here to laugh at, and begged me to let him 

* And now what has he done ? ' 

*He came with his muUas and his men learned in 
the Heavenly books, and talked all day till I was 
weary and put off the discussion. I said the Council 
of muUas was to take evidence and have the 
whole thing ready for me when I returned from the 

* But what is it all about ? ' 

* God knows. Some silly little point between Sunnis 
and Shias. These things serve to keep the mullas 
amused. When they have done I shall decide in favour 
of the Sunnis, because it will please the Turks and 
Afghans and make the Persian dogs angry.' 

*I have never understood what is the difference 
between Sunnis and Shias.' 

* Why should women trouble about such things ? Or 
men either. It is all pooch, nonsense. Priests always 
wrangle about trifles. All religions are good so long 
as the priests do not interfere in matters which do not 
concern them.' 

*A11 religions goody my Lord? Are not Jews and 
Christians accursed ? ' 

* So the mullas say, but God is great and the mullas 
are fools. Were there not holy men among your 
Brahmins? And are not the Jews and Christians 


people of the Book? There are no better subjects in 
Persia than the Armenians. They cultivate their fields 
and pay their taxes and give no trouble. Their old 
High Priest was a good man, much better than the 
muUas. I always conferred favours upon him, and 
asked him to pray for me. He was very old. He has 
now been delivered from the miseries of the world, and 
another has taken his place. This one has had disputes 
with the mullas in Ispahan, and the Yali Ahd decided 
in his favour. But yesterday I made him pay a heavy 
fine. I told him that priests had no. occasion for riches, 
which only serve to perplex the mind and take it ofP 
from religious things. It is kings who require money, 
for the support of their armies and governments.' 

* My Lord, I know nothing, but your words make me 
bold. My Lord has heard that your brother's son, Ali 
Kuli, has a Christian wife, a Georgian ? ' 

* I know it. What of that ? ' 

' My Lord, I have made her acquaintance, and she has 
spoken to me of such things. She speaks well, and 
much that she says seems to me very good.' 

*We shall have you turning Christian soon. Well, 
you might do worse.' 

* My Lord ! Do you not believe that Islam is the true 

' God knows. It is true, I suppose. I have seen the 
holy Ali in a dream. But the mullas invent many 
lies. I could make a better faith than theirs. Perhaps 
I shall some day. If a man is " but-parast," an idol 
worshipper, he is the grandfather of asses, but all who 
worship the one God are alike. He only knows what 
is truth. Be a Christian if you like, little one, and 
worship Hazrat i Isa. He was a holy man and a 
prophet. Or be a Guebr if it please you, and wor- 


ship fire. The Guebrs are good subjects too. It is all 
the same to me. A woman should be beautiful and 
good-tempered and faithful to her lord. What does 
the rest matter ? ' 

The discussion ended with a laugh, and left Sitara 
happy enough ; but before Nadir slept she had lost the 
ground she seemed to have won. Emboldened by 
his mention of Reza Khan, and longing to regain his 
full confidence, Sitara ventured to touch the sore spot 
in his heart. 

*My Lord,' she said, *you spoke of the Shahzadeh. 
Does he too think well of the Christians ? ' 

Nadir looked at her with a quick glance of suspicion, 
and his face clouded over at once. For a moment 
he did not answer. Then he spoke, slowly and 

* God knows,' he said, * what is in the heart of Reza 
Khan. He is young and foolish.' 

He turned to other things, but he seemed absent and 
thoughtful. His happier mood was gone. 

During the next week Sitara never saw him, and 
then a bitter thing came upon her. 

The Shirazi had been honoured during the week with 
more than one visit, and was proportionately elated. 
She had secured from a mulla a new love charm of 
peculiar potency, and it seemed to be working with 
success. In truth. Nadir came to her mainly to learn 
the gossip of the palace and town. But her vanity 
leading her astray she thought her time had come. 
She saw that he now spent less of his leisure with 
Sitara. The star of the black girl was paling. Now if 
she got a chance — now was the time to strike. 

One night Nadir had been specially good-humoured. 
He had got on the subject of Mirza Mehdi and the 


mullas. It was a subject well suited for the play of 
her flippant wit, and she had been very merry about 
it all. She had fallen in with his humour and told him 
stories about the mullas, more or less indecent but all 
amusing, till he lay back on his cushions and roared 
with laughter. Her dark eyes were dancing, and for 
the moment she looked pretty. 

'You little Shaitan,' he said, with a careless caress, 
' you understand these pidr sukhtehs. I shall have you 
turning Christian next. It seems to be the fashion in 
the Anderun.' 

Her quick mind caught his meaning at once, and her 
heart leapt with joy. Surely the chance had come. 

* I turn Isavi ! ' she said, ' walk about with my face 
bare, and eat the unclean flesh, and pray to a dead 
Jew ? That may be good enough for an Indian idolater. 
Persians are not fools, and they have some sense of 

*They are shameless enough, God knows — Shaitans 
most of them. The women of Hind are faithful and 

'Modest! Women who worship the Red Stone of 
lust ! Did the Shah not see the images in their streets, 
and the carvings on their accursed temples, and hear 
the stories of their filthy rites? The very Kizlbash 
blushed with shame as they broke the images to pieces. 
And God knows,' she added with a laugh, * it takes 
something to shame a Kizlbash.' 

'I have seen and heard, yet the women of Hind are 
not like Persians.' 

* God forbid ! At least the women of Irdn do not 
go out night after night to practise unholy rites, or 
Nadir's face was dark as he turned upon her. ' More 


than once you have spoken words with evil meanings. 
I am not a fool that I have not understood. Now I 
will have no more of it. If you have anything to say, 
say it plainly. And be careful. By Allah, you will 
repent it if you tell me lies.' 

The Shirazi's courage nearly failed her. But she was 
committed now. Though her heart was beating fast, 
and her hands beginning to tremble, she resolved to 
stake all upon the cast. 

' I have never lied to the Shah.' 

A look of contempt came into Nadir's eyes. * Does a 
Persian ever lie ? ' 

* I swear I am not lying now. But I cannot bear to 
see the Shah's confidence betrayed. She goes out night 
after night across the garden to the quarters of Ali 
Kuli's Christian wife and meets Armenian women. 
Ali Kuli and the Vali Ahd are friends, and their 
quarters are not far apart. And the Shah knows that 
in Ispahan the Vali Ahd showed much favour to the 
Christian dogs. May the Shah forgive me if I am 
blinded by zeal for his service. Is it for nothing that 
she goes there so often ? Let the Shah ask and see if 
I am lying. She is there night after night. She is out 
now. Let the Shah ask and see.' 

Nadir listened to the end. He was not wholly de- 
ceived. He knew that the accusation was born of 
hatred; and he believed that Sitara's heart was true. 
But he had been brought up to distrust women, and 
from long brooding over his trouble about Reza Khan 
his mind was only too ready to admit suspicion. In 
any case Sitara should not give occasion for such 
speeches. She had at best been foolish and careless 
of his reputation. He answered with a laugh of 


* So that is all,' he said. ' You are jealous. What do 
I care if the Indian goes to see the Christian women ? 
She is not like a Persian, full of lying and intrigue. 
Because she is young and beautiful you hate her. Am 
I without eyes? Can I not see that your face is 
wrinkled, and that you are bearded like a Kizlbash? 
Is this your Persian cleverness, to lie like an angry 
child? Keep your lies for those who are fools 
enough to believe you, and never again say a word 
of the kind to me. By Allah, I could kill you like a 

She crept to his feet, moaning out excuses and 
prayers for forgiveness, with fear at her heart and a 
blaze of hatred in her hidden eyes. He stood looking 
down for a moment in angry scorn, and then walked 
out of her room. 

When he was gone the Shirazi rose and cursed him 
with all the curses her vocabulary supplied, and they 
were many and bitter. But in all her anger and fear 
there was mingled a sense of triumph. She had wit 
enough to see that she had touched him. ' He will not 
forget,' she muttered. *I have sown the seed, and it 
will bear fruit in time. We will see who will win in 
the end. Low-born, thick-witted Turkoman fool. Son 
of a dog. You will have little peace to-night.' 

A few minutes later she saw the Agha Bashi walk 
quickly over to Nadir's quarters, evidently in obedience 
to a summons, and she guessed the reason. 

The Agha Bashi entered the Shah's presence. Nadir 
was standing with an angry frown on his face. 

* The Shah sent for me ? ' 

'Yes. Where is the Indian girl? I went to her 
rooms and did not find her.' 
' May the Shah forgive me. I thought the Shah 


would not honour her to-night. She has gone to visit 
the Anderun of Ali Kuli Mirza/ 

*Why does she go out at night, giving occasion to 
evil tongues? Has she not all the day to spend in 
chattering with these Christian dogs? Have, you no 
sense that you let my face be blackened ? ' 

* May I be the Shah's sacrifice. I thought there was 
no harm in it. She never leaves the palace, and she is 
always attended.' 

'Fool. How do you know where she goes? Bring 
her here.' 

The Agha Bashi went out in silence, and Nadir called 
for wine. He had waited some minutes when the 
eunuch returned with Sitara. Nadir dismissed him 
and turned to the girl. 

' Raise your veil,' he said. 

She did so, and he saw that her face was pale. 

* Who are you that I should be kept waiting half the 
night when I send for you ? Where have you been ? ' 

* My Lord, I meant no harm. I was sitting with the 
wife of Ali Kuli Mirza.' 

' Always with those accursed Christians. Have you 
no shame that you must go out at night ? God knows 
where you go, blackening my face and making men 
talk evil of you. Am I nothing that you dare to be 
absent when I send for you ? ' 

Sitara started and her head went up. 

* My Lord knows I have done no wrong,' she said. ' I 
heard that the Shah had gone elsewhere, aud I thought 
I should not be honoured to-night.' 

The words angered Nadir. They seemed to savour 
of complaint. 

* So you set spies on me. What is it to you where I 
go? Am I not the Shah?' 



' My Lord. For God's sake do not be angry. I meant 
no harm.' 

Nadir stood looking at her in silence. Even in his 
anger her beauty struck to his senses. He had not 
seen her for days, and there came over him a sudden 
longing to take her in his arms again, and let all be as 
it used to be. But his pride was too strong. 

' Go to your rooms,' he said, * and if ever I come to 
you again, take care that I find you. Go.' 

Sitara looked at him for an instant with appeal in 
her eyes. Then she dropped her veil in silence, and 
turned and left him. 



During those miserable weeks Nadir had not mentioned 
to any one his suspicion that Reza Khan had been the 
real mover in the attempt to murder him. Although 
the idea was never out of his mind, he hoped his son 
was innocent of the crime. ' And he was too wary, too 
distrustful of all about him, to tell them what he was 
thinking. The Shirazi, like Sitara, saw through his 
reserve; and, unlike Sitara, did her best to foster his 
doubts. She and her brother found opportunities now 
and then, without committing themselves, to touch 
delicately upon the point. The Shirdzi, with her 
* damnable iteration,' would quote some apposite 
verse : 

'The arrow seems to come from the bow, but wise men see 
that it is directed by the archer.' 

Or Ali Akbar would stop in the midst of his laughter 
to say something about his own son, and to sigh over 
the little love that fathers could expect from their 
children. But Nadir took no notice of their hints. 

Yet he had more reason than they knew to distrust 
his son. Only a few days after his arrival in Tehran 
he had received from the Governor of Meshed an 
answer to his inquiries about Nek Kadam. The 
Governor reported that after the release of the Yusuf- 
zai, when the army struck across the desert to Merv, 


he had been seen in Meshed. Then he had disappeared. 
Nadir knew that at that time Reza Khan had also 
been in Meshed. The inference was clear. Nadir kept 
his own counsel, but sent back an autograph letter 
saying the man must be found at once. 

The matter was now coming to a head. 

Shortly before trouble came upon Sitara a special 
messenger brought Nadir the news that Nek Kadam 
had been found, and was being sent to Tehran by 
forced marches. 

Nadir received the messenger himself. He was a 
Kizlbash, and had ridden in from Meshed, six hundred 
miles, in six days. He bore a letter from the Governor 
saying that the Yusufzai had fought desperately when 
arrested, but had been overpowered. Since then he 
had been defiant and abusive, and openly cursed the 
Shah. Nadir warned the messenger to be silent about 
his errand, and sent him back at once. 

But, carefully as Nadir had taken his precautions, 
the matter had come to the ears of Ali Akbar. He 
also had his informants, and it happened that the 
officer in command of the party which was bringing 
the Yusufzai to Tehran was bound to him by ties of 

This officer, Huseyn Khan, was a Persian from Shiraz ; 
and Ali Akbar had, for a consideration, got him a 
remission of land-tax on his estate. When put in 
charge of the Yusufzai he had guessed that Ali Akbar 
would be glad to know what was going on. The 
special messenger who brought the despatch for the 
Shah brought also a private letter for Ali Akbar, 
couched in the most innocent terms, which stated that 
Huseyn Khan was coming to Tehran in charge of the 
prisoner, and that he hoped to have the honour before 


long of once more rejoicing his eyes with a sight of his 

Ali Akbar understood the whole thing at once, and 
sent word that he wished to see his sister. She came 
over to his quarters after dinner, and was received in 
his Anderun. He told her what had happened. 

*Now,' he said, *what shall we do? If properly 
treated, the affair ought to work to our advantage.' 

* Do you believe the Yusuf zai fired the shot ? ' 
*Chira? Yes. Why not? But he has confessed 


* Then there is no proof against the Vali Ahd ? ' 

* No, but it looks bad for him. The man was in his 

The Shirazi thought for a minute. Then her quick 
wit jumped to a conclusion. 

* Write to the officer in charge,' she said, 'and tell 
him that the Yusufzai had better confess under pro- 
mise of pardon. Then he can say he was employed by 
the Vali Ahd and the Indian girl.' 

* The Indian girl ! You are always thinking of her. 
That is childishness. The Shah would never believe 
she was in the plot. The little fool is in love with him 
still, and he knows it. It would spoil the whole thing 
to bring her in.' 

* It is all I care about. The Vali Ahd is nothing to 

Ali Akbar repressed a gesture of impatience. 

*You are mad about that. Listen. I will write as 
you suggest. That is a good idea. We will get the 
Yusufzai to believe that his best chance of saving his 
life is to denounce the Vali Ahd. Afterwards we can 
bring in the Indian girl somehow. But we must not 
bring her in now. It would spoil the whole thing.' 



The Shirazi reflected. * I suppose you are right,' she 
said. * I will do all I can to help against the Yali Ahd. 
But promise me you will not forget the girl. She has 
blackened my face, and I hate her.' 

' I w411 not forget. But one thing at a time. Let us 
settle the Vali Ahd's business first. Then I promise 
you I will find some way of doing what you want. 
Leave that to me.' 

The letter went off the same day. It was guarded in 
its terms, but there was no doubt that Huseyn Khan 
would understand. The Yusufzai was to be persuaded 
that if he said nothing he would certainly be killed on 
suspicion, and that if he offered to tell Nadir the whole 
truth on promise of his life he would probably escape. 

Huseyn Khan did his work well. He made no attempt 
to force the confidence of the suspicious tribesman, but 
he made it clear that every one believed the Vali Ahd 
to be the instigator of the crime, and that the Shah 
would do almost anything to get proof of it. Before 
the party had arrived in Tehran the Yusufzai had 
made up his mind. 

As a matter of fact, Reza Khan was innocent. The 
Yusufzai had come to him in Meshed, had told the 
story of the executions in Khiva, and had asked for 
service. Reza Khan had given him some money, but 
had refused to employ him. Angry as Reza was 
against his father, he was too much afraid of Nadir to 
take back into his service a man whom Nadir had 
punished and dismissed. It would have been madness. 
When Nek Kadam persisted he had answered roughly, 
and the Yusufzai had gone away burning with rage at 
the manner in which his services had been requited. 
He had remained in concealment until the army 
returned, and had then heard how his clansmen had 


suffered on the desert march. Among them was one 
whose rage was as fierce as his own, and the two had 
determined to take their revenge. The attempt had 
failed, but Nek Kadam now hated Reza Khan almost 
as much as he hated Nadir ; and as he could not kill 
the father he was ready to fall in with any plan which 
would bring evil upon the son. 

Nadir thoroughly distrusted all about the Court, and 
was determined, if possible, to examine Nek Kadam 
himself before any one else could get at him. When 
the party was a couple of marches from Tehran he 
suddenly gave orders for some tents to be sent out to 
a point a few miles away on the Meshed road. A herd 
of wild asses had been seen on the plains close by, and 
he wanted a day or two of peace and hunting. He 
went off with a small escort, leaving the Court and 
officials behind. 

As Nadir rode across the plain, and over the low, 
stony pass towards Meshed, his head was sunk on his 
breast, and he was thinking deeply over the coming 
interview. His old love for his son was not dead, and 
a few kindly words from Reza Khan might even yet 
have revived it. But Reza Khan had his father's 
imperious temper and his father's pride. He felt that 
he had been harshly and unjustly treated. He fiercely 
resented his disgrace. His manner showed his feelings 
only too clearly, and the few meetings between father 
and son had ended in making their estrangement 
worse. Each saw in the other, or fancied he saw, 
nothing but dislike and hostility. The son believed his 
father to be jealous of him. The father believed his 
son to be undutif ul, and impatient for the coming of 
his inheritance. It needed little to fan their smoulder- 
ing wrath into a blaze. 


On the following morning Nadir made some pretence 
of hunting. The herd of wild asses was seen, but soon 
distanced their pursuers and disappeared over the 
desert plain. A few mountain partridges were killed 
with hawks, and there was a gallop after some gazelle. 
Then the dust of marching men was seen on the road 
to the eastward, and Nadir returned to his tent. 

He had eaten his midday meal when the party rode 
in, and the officer in command was at once summoned 
to make his report. He informed Nadir that his 
prisoner was safe, but that he could say nothing more. 
Nek Kadam had been sullen and silent, and had 
volunteered no confidences. 

* Do you know of what he is accused ? ' Nadir said. 

*I know nothing. My orders were to bring the 
prisoner to Tehran by forced marches and deliver him 
to the Presence. I swear by Ali, by my soul, that I 
know nothing more.' 

Nadir looked at the man's expressionless face and 
downcast eyes, and disbelieved him. He was a Persian, 
and was backing his word by unnecessary oaths after 
the Persian fashion. But there was nothing to be 
gained by disputing his statements. 

* Bring the prisoner here.' 

The Yusufzai was led in by two soldiers. He had an 
iron collar on his neck and iron rings on his wrists and 
ankles, all fastened together by chains so tightly that 
he could hardly stand upright. In this state he had 
been made to ride fifty or sixty miles a day. He was 
worn and haggard, but in spite of all he bore himself 

:e a man, looking Nadir full in the face with fearless 

Nadir told the Persian officer to leave the tent. 
Then he turned to the Yusufzai. 



* So you have come before me again. You were fool 
enough to think you could escape me by hiding in the 
Taimani country? I should have found you if you 
had gone to the ends of the earth.' 

* The Shah's arm is long. Who doubts it ? But I was 
not hiding. What have I done that I should hide 

* You lie boldly, but I do not forget. You tried to 
murder me once before, and now you have tried again. 
Why should I give you your life a second time ? ' 

* The Shah can kill me if he pleases. I am bound and 
helpless. But I have done no wrong. I did service to 
the Shah.' 

* Yes, you did service. You are not a coward. There- 
fore I spared you when you behaved foolishly and 
deserved death. You owed me gratitude, and you 
know how you have shown it.' 

Gratitude ! The man's eyes flashed. But life is 
sweet. He answered quietly. 

* What is the use of speaking ? The Shah has power 
to do as he pleases. But I have done no wrong. I do 
not know of what I am accused.' 

* Lies are for cowards. A brave man should not lie. 
When you fired at me from the rocks, I saw you. I do 
not forget men I have known.' 

*The Shah's eyes deceived him. I fired no shot. 
Since the Shah dismissed me at Charjui I have been in 
Afghanistan, seeking service.' 

*This is foolishness. My eyes do not deceive. But 
you are a brave man, and I have spared you once. 
I am obliged to punish at times, but I am merciful. 
You have seen it.' 

The Yusufzai remained silent. 

* Have you nothing to say before I give the order ? 


Have you no wish to see your village again ? The hills 
of the Yusufzai are pleasant, and they say the maids 
of the Yusufzai are fair.' 

The tribesman raised his eyes for an instant to 
Nadir's face. One hand was clenched hard on the 
other, and Nadir saw it. Still he was silent, thinking 
what words would serve him best. 

' What good will it do you to die without speaking ? 
Is life nothing ? I am merciful, and would spare you 
if I could. Tell me the truth and you are free.' 

The Yusufzai looked Nadir in the face again. ' I did 
not fire any shot. I have done no wrong. But I know 
something that might be of service to the Shah. If I 
speak, will the Shah swear by his head and by the 
Prophet that I shall have a safe conduct to my own 
country ? ' 

* I swear by my head and by the Prophet. But it 
must be the whole truth.' 

Ned Kadam felt little confidence in any such 
promises. It would be easy to find some excuse for 
killing him after all. But it was the only chance of 
life. Was he not already dead ? 

' Then I will speak. The Shah knows everything. 
Who has most to gain by the death of the Shah ? ' 

So it had come. He had known it all along. God ! 
that his own son, the son for whom he had felt such 
love and pride, should have plotted his death. 

* Go on and speak plainly, not in riddles. And speak 
the whole truth, or, by Allah, you die this hour. First, 
you fired the shot ? ' 

The Yusufzai hesitated, but what was the use of 
denying ? It would not save him, and Nadir would be 
more likely to believe the rest of his story if he 
admitted it. 


•The Shah knows everything. I will tell no more 
lies. I fired the shot. One of the Shah's ladies saw 
me, and I fired hastily. I do not often miss.* 

* At last ! And why did you do it ? ' 

•When I was dismissed by the Shah I went to 
Meshed. I had been in the Vali Ahd's bodyguard, and 
at Char jui I had done him service. I thought he would 
help me.' 

•Bale? Yes?' 

* I saw the Vali Ahd, but he would not give me 
service. He was afraid the Shah would be angry.' 

* Go on.' 

* He said that I was a brave man, and that he had 
eaten much grief on my account. Then he gave me 
gold, and told me that if he ever became Shah, he 
would give me a good place under him.' 

* How much did he give you ? ' 

' Twenty gold tumans. He told me to come and see 
him again after three months, and perhaps he would 
give me more.* 

* That is nothing. The Vali Ahd meant no harm.' 

* He said that the Shah had been hard to me, and 
my people, and that it was not justice, but that while 
the Shah lived he could do nothing.* 

* Go on, and take care.' 

* I said that twenty tumans was very little, and asked 
what he would give me if I did him a great service ; 
and he answered that he could do nothing while he 
was in disgrace, but that if he became Shah he would 
give me a thousand tumdns and a high post. Then I 
said plainly that I would kill the Shah and return in 
three months.* 

•Afrin! And then?' 

* Then the Vali Ahd said that such words were not for 



him to hear. I said Bisyar Khub — very well. But if 
when I return you are Shah, you swear by God and the 
Prophet that you will give me the money and a post ? 
And he swore he would.' 

' If you are lying I shall know it, and you shall die 
a death that men will remember.' 

* The Shah has power to do what he pleases. I am 

* After you had failed to kill me, what did you do?' 

* For a week I was hunted in the mountains. Then 
I got away to the Taimani country.' 

* You did not return to the Vali Ahd ? ' 

'What was the use? He would have given me 
nothing. Besides he was away in Tehran.' 

Nadir remained silent for a time, thinking it all over. 
Then he gave orders for the man to be removed, and 
sent in at once to the city. The guards and the officer 
in charge were strictly warned to keep the secret. 

When this was done Nadir mounted and rode back 
to Tehran. He rode alone, in deep gloom. He believed 
the Yusufzai's story, but he still had some faint hope 
that Reza Khan might be able to disprove it. The 
next thing was to see Reza Khan himself, and then, if 
necessary, confront him with the assassin. 



Next morning, after he had despatched some necessary- 
business, Nadir summoned his son to his presence. 

Reza Khan came into the room where his father was 
seated. His manner was respectful, but his face 
showed that he came to the interview without pleasure, 
and there was a touch of defiance in his carriage. He 
looked pale from his long confinement in the palace. 
Nadir had determined to make one appeal to his son's 
feelings, and he hoped against hope even now. But 
as usual Reza Khan's manner hurt him, and his eyes 
looked cold and hard as he returned his son's salute. 

When they were alone. Nadir remained for a minute 
in silence, his gaze fixed on the face of Reza Khan, 
who sat with downcast eyes, motionless and expectant. 
Then, with something like a sigh, Nadir spoke. 

* You remember that when I was returning to Tehran 
an attempt was made to murder me ? ' 

*I know it,' Reza Khan answered, without raising 
his eyes. * Alhemdulillah ! Praise be to God that the 
attempt failed.' 

Nadir was watching his face. 

* The man who shot at me has been found, and has 

Reza Khan looked up in surprise, and found his 
father's eyes fixed upon him with an expression which 
brought a sudden fear to his heart. 



* Who was the man ? What made him do such 
villainy ? ' 

* The man was Nek Kadam, Yusuf zai. He was once 
in your bodyguard.' 

Reza Khan felt a hot flush mounting to his cheek, 
but he faced Nadir boldly. 

'Nek Kadam,' he said, *the man who behaved so 
well at Charjui. I have heard that he was foolish 
afterwards, and that the Shah dismissed him.' 

' It is true. He was so foolish that he deserved death, 
but I spared him. Then he went to Meshed, and saw 

'Yes. He came and asked me for service, but of 
course I refused, and he was angry with me.' 

' You knew when you appointed him to your body- 
guard that he was one of the men who tried to kill me 
when the camp was on the Indus ? ' 

' Yes, I knew it.' A sudden recognition of his folly 
struck cold to Reza Khan's heart. * I knew,' he said, 
' but the Shah had forgiven him, and taken him into 
service. He was not a murcjerer. He was fighting as 
these hill-men always fight, and the Shah had praised 
the bravery of the men of Yusufzai. I did not think 
the Shah would disapprove.' 

' Yet you never told me you had done it.' 

'God knows whether I spoke of it. The man had 
served in the army for a year, and showed much 
courage. He was recommended to me as a brave man, 
and faithful. I never doubted that the Shah knew.' 

*You never spoke of it. I did not know until the 
fight at Charjui.' 

'I see now that I should have asked the Shah's 
permission, but I swear by my soul that I never 
thought of it.' 


* You swear like a Persian. At best it was the act of 
a fool.' 

Reza coloured, but remained silent. 
*When he came to you in Meshed you gave him 

* Yes. He had done me service, and he was hungry. 
I could not employ him, so I gave him a few tumans.' 

' And then he went away and hid in the mountains, 
and tried to murder me.' 

Nadir's meaning was clear, and the full horror of his 
position rushed upon Reza Khan's mind. But he was 
innocent of the crime, and he fiercely resented Nadir's 

* Great God ! ' he said. * Is it possible that the Shah 
thinks I knew of it? I will not believe that such a 
thought could darken his mind.' 

Nadir was not sure what to think. Reza Khan's 
indignation seemed genuine, but circumstances were 
very much against him. Nadir would have liked to 
believe, but could not. He did what was perhaps the 
worst thing he could do. 

'Listen,' he said. *I examined the man myself, and 
he told me all. He said that you promised to reward 
him with money and place if he killed me. Be quiet 
and listen. You -were angry when he came to you, and 
the young do not think before they speak. You have 
been in power while I was away in India, and you 
have become impatient of control. It is not strange 
that you should want to be a king. I have thought 
over it all and made excuses for you. Although you 
have done wrong, you are my son. Tell me the whole 
truth. Before God I am not merciless. No one knows 
what has happened. If you will trust me and show 
that you are penitent, all will be well. There is nothing 



to fear. But for your own sake do not persist in 
telling me lies. What more shall I say ? ' 

Reza Khan had begun more than once to break in, 
but Nadir had stopped him. He spoke now, angrily 
and unwisely. 

' What use is it for me to say anything ? The Shah 
has condemned me already. Is this the Shah's justice ? 
I have done nothing. I am blameless. The Shah has 
disgraced me in the sight of all, and I have been made 
to eat such dirt that I can never hold up my head 
again. And now the Shah listens to a lying Afghan 
who wants to do me evil. What justice is this ? You 
offer me mercy if I will betray myself. What mercy 
have you ever shown ? You are not my father. You 
have always hated me, and now you want to take my 

And in his passion he laid his hands on the hilt of 
his sword. 

Nadir seized the axe by his side. 

* Hah ! You dare to threaten me ? I have heard 
enough. Now I know what you are.' 

He called, and the Agha Bashi came in to the room. 
Nadir pointed to his son. * Remove him and let him be 
kept under guard till I send for him.' 

A look of pain came over the negro's face. He 
saluted Reza Khan respectfully. 

* Tashrif biyarid,' he said. ' Let your Honour come.' 
Reza Khan looked at his father. 'I did not mean 

to threaten the Shah,' he said, 'and I have spoken 
foolishly. I have been mad. But I am without guilt.' 

Nadir made no answer beyond a slight gesture of 
dismissal, and Reza Khan walked out with death in 
his face. 

For a full hour Nadir sat alone, pondering over the 


scene through which he had passed, and gradually his 
anger gave way to a tormenting sense of doubt. What 
if the boy were innocent after all? But no, it could 
not be. He called for the Agha Bashi again. 

* Have they brought in the prisoner from Meshed ? ' 

* Yes, your Majesty. He came in last night.' 

* Bring him here.' 

The Yusufzai was brought in, and Nadir went over 
the whole story again, trying to entrap the man into 
falsehood, carefully testing every link of the chain. It 
was useless. The Yusufzai was perfectly steady. 
Neither threats nor promises could shake him. 

That evening Nadir made one more eifort to save 
himself from the horror which was coming upon his 
life. He was little given to consulting those about 
him, but at times the most self-reliant of men will feel 
the need of counsel, and Nadir resolved that before 
finally condemning his son he would hear all that 
could be said. He ate little that night, but drank 
cup after cup of wine. After his meal was over he 
summoned to his room an informal council of three. 
They were the Agha Bashi, the good Hakim, and Ali 

The council was well chosen. Nadir knew that the 
Agha Bashi had always been a friend of Reza Khan, 
and yet was perfectly faithful. Ali Akbar was hostile 
to Reza Khan, and was the cleverest man he had about 
him. The Hakim's honesty and scrupulous sense of 
justice were known to all, and Nadir also knew that he 
would speak his mind with entire fearlessness. 

The relations between the Hakim and Ali Akbar 
were outwardly good enough, but they were not 
friends at heart. Ali Akbar was extremely cordial to 
the Hakim in his jovial, merry way, and the two might 


be seen walking in the Shah's garden hand in hand 
like children. But though he did not repel Ali Akbar's 
advances, the Hakim thoroughly distrusted him, and 
Ali Akbar was very jealous of the Hakim's influence. 
Seeing Nadir daily in private, the Hakim had innumer- 
able opportunities of saying whatever he chose, and 
Ali Akbar believed that some of his pet schemes had 
been crossed by arguments which he had no chance of 
meeting. There was no love between the two. 

Slowly and carefully Nadir put the whole case before 
the council, and asked for their opinion. He turned to 
Ali Akbar first. 

Ali Akbar answered much as Nadir had expected 
him to answer. He dwelt on the enormity of the 
crime, and the necessity for making an example in 
order that the life of the Shah might be secured from 
such attempts in future. He reluctantly admitted 
that the case against Reza Khan was very strong, 
but he urged that the Vali Ahd was young, and had 
perhaps said in a moment of anger more than he had 
really intended. If he now confessed, and said he was 
penitent, Ali Akbar thought that the Shah might 
indulge the inclination of his fatherly heart, and show 

Nadir listened in silence and turned to the Hakim. 
'Your Majesty,' the Hakim said, 'there is no doubt 
that an example is necessary, and that the guilty 
should be punished. But as the Centre of the Universe 
has deigned to ask for the opinion of this slave, I can 
only say that in my judgment the Yali Ahd is without 
guilt. He has perhaps been imprudent, but there is no 
proof that he has meant to do any harm to the Shah. 
The Holy Book says it is wicked to punish any man on 
mere suspicion. It is evident that the Yusufzai is 


guilty. He has confessed it. Who is he that his word 
should be taken against the son of the Shah ? In my 
judgment he is lying to save his own life. What more 
likely ? And if the Vali Ahd has enemies, or if there 
is any one whose interests would be advanced by his 
death, they would use the Yusufzai to serve their own 
ends. The Shah knows best, but in my judgment it 
would be for the service of the Shah that those who 
are known to be guilty should suffer, and that no 
importance should be attached to the statement of a 
man who has everything to gain and nothing to lose 
by accusing others.' 

The Agha Bashi rather timidly supported the Hakim, 
but suggested that before deciding the Shah should 
confront Reza Khan with his accuser. 

When all had spoken, Nadir Shah pointed out that 
the Yusufzai had no motive for accusing Reza Khan, 
who had shown him nothing but kindness ; and as to 
any mischief on the part of others, he said he felt sure 
there had been no opportunity for getting at the man. 

Ali Akbar entirely agreed in this view. He said that 
he did not know the officer in charge of the prisoner, 
but that doubtless he had been chosen as a trustworthy 
person, and moreover the prisoner had been examined 
by the Shah before he came to Tehran. It was practi- 
cally impossible that any enemy of the Vali Ahd's 
could have obtained access to him. But perhaps the 
Yusufzai had mistaken the Vali Ahd's meaning. That 
was possible, and he hoped it was so. 

The Hakim listened quietly, his hand on the stem of 
his kalidn. Nadir turned to him again. 

* The Shah knows best,' he said in his gentle, deliberate 
way. * Who am I that I should speak again ? But in 
the judgment of this slave, the Vali Ahd is innocent.' 



Nadir did not reply. He remained silent for a minute 
or two, and then dismissed his advisers. In the morn- 
ing he would decide. 

Meanwhile he gave orders for Reza Khan to be 
brought to a room adjoining his own, and kept under 
close guard. 



The morning found Nadir still doubtful. The Hakim's 
words had produced considerable effect upon him, but 
he did not believe any one would have dared to tamper 
with the prisoner. To make sure he sent for Nek 
Kadam again. 

* Listen,' he said, when the Yusuf zai was before him. 
* I have thought over all you have said. I told you I 
would spare your life if you told me the whole truth, 
and I will do so, but until now you have been lying. 
It has come to my knowledge that an enemy of the 
Vali Ahd has persuaded you to accuse him, and that 
you, being in fear of your life, have made a false 
charge. Now tell me the truth, or I give the order. 
The executioners are waiting.' 

The Yusufzai never wavered. He had been warned 
beforehand to be prepared for such a contingency, and 
he met it with perfect steadiness. 

*Bisyar Khub,' he said, *very well. The Shah has 
power to do as he pleases. I am weary of life, and if 
the Shah does not believe me, let him give the order. 
I have no more to say.' 

And to that he resolutely adhered. Nothing that 
Nadir said could move him. He shook his head and 
refused to speak any more. 

* What is the use ? ' he said. 

Nadir dismissed Nek Kadam and sent for Reza Khan, 


only to find him equally stubborn. His words were 
the same. 

* What is the use ? I have spoken the truth, and the 
Shah does not believe. I have nothing more to say. 
I am without fault. Whatever the Shah wills let him 
do. I am tired of life.' 

Then Nadir confronted the two, and made the 
Yusufzai tell his story again. Beza Khan listened 
quietly at first, and admitted the truth of much that 
Nek Kadam said. Here and there he interrupted, but 
without heat. 

*Darugh. A lie,' he said quietly, two or three 

When the Yusufzai had finished, Nadir turned to him. 

* What have you got to say ? ' 

* Of what use is it for me to speak ? What he has 
said is partly true. I have told the Shah so already. 
When he says I offered him a bribe to do evil to the 
Shah, he is lying. I am wholly without fault. But 
what is the use of my saying anything ? If the Shah 
chooses to believe it, he can do so.' 

Reza Khan spoke as if he had no hope, and hardly 
cared to defend himself, but he spoke with dignity. 
To Nadir it seemed defiance. 

Nadir asked one more question. 

* If you made no promises of giving a reward when 
you became Shah, where are the people who were with 
you when you saw the Yusufzai ? There must be many 
who remember.' 

* There was no one present,' Reza Khan said. *We 
were alone.' 

' You were alone, and you gave him money, and he 
went away and did what we know. Do you receive 
alone men who come to ask for service ? ' 


* No, but he came in the evening when I was alone 
in my tent, and I did not think of any harm, and let 
him come in.' 

Nadir laughed — a short, contemptuous laugh. 
Beza Khan looked at his father s face, and felt that 
the toils had closed round him. A sudden storm of 
fury and despair swept over his heart, and a fierce cry 
broke from his lips. 

*Aye — laugh — laugh. May the curse of God be on 
you ! Now give the order to kill me. You have killed 
thousands of innocent men. Who am I that I should 
escape ? Would to God that the liar had shot straight, 
and rid the world of you and your bloody tyranny. 
Now kill me.' 

Nadir's hand closed on the handle of his axe, and the 
veins swelled on his temples. He mastered himself 
with an effort. 

*You shall not die,' he said. *You shall live to re- 
pent of your crime and thank me for my mercy, but 
you shall thank me in darkness. I have spoken.' 

Reza Khan mocked aloud. 

*Shukr! Shukr!' he cried. * Thanks! thanks! my 
father. Your heart was always soft and merciful. 
I know the two who have brought you to this, making 
you their plaything, as always. Tear out my eyes 
and lay them in the lap of the Shirazi. How she 
will laugh with her lovers — the juwdns of the 

Nadir started with fury at the insult, but said 
nothing. He pointed with his axe to the doorway. 
Reza Khan walked out erect and defiant. 




Nadir's decision was soon known to the Shirazi, and 
late that evening, when there was no longer any- 
chance of Nadir coming to her room, she made her 
way to her brother's quarters. She found him await- 
ing her, and not in the best of spirits. To do him 
justice, Ali Akbar was not cruel. He was quite ready 
to bring about Reza Khan's disgrace by any false 
accusation : that was fair fighting : but he did not like 
the thought of the horrible punishment which was 
about to be inflicted. When his sister came in he 
said so, with a flush and an uneasy laugh. The Shirazi's 
face took a look of contempt. 

*You are as bad as that old fool of a Hakim,' she 
said. * What does it matter how these Turkoman hogs 
rend each other? You have got what you wanted. 
He will be out of your way for the future. Now for 
my share. How are we to bring in the Indian ? ' 

'Always the Indian. Why can't you let her be? 
She is losing favour, and will soon be harmless too.' 

* If she is losing favour, now is the time to strike. 
Who knows what her sorceries may do? Who can 
wash the black from an Ethiop ? ' 

' She is not black. She has no sorcery but her beauty. 
And what do I care ? She is nothing to me. I am sick 
of the whole thing. I wish I were a dervish, and free 
from all this devilment.' 



The Shirazi turned on him impatiently. * For God's 
sake don't be a fool,' she said. ' This is no time for 
child's talk.' 

* It is the truth. I was not made to serve these 
bloody tyrants. I hate it all. " Better to eat barley 
bread and sit on the ground than to put on a golden 
belt and stand in waiting." ' 

* Oh yes, I know. And " a poor man with content- 
ment is better than a rich man with substance." And 
so on, and so on. Have I not heard it all a hundred 
times ? ' 

* This time it is no talk. I swear by the mother that 
bore me, that I will be a dervish.' 

An unpleasant look came into the Shirazi's eyes. 

* You promised,' she said. ' And what would happen 
if the Shah were to hear of a certain letter that went 
down the Meshed road ? ' 

Ali Akbar started. * God's power ! ' he said, and his 
face grew pale at the thought. ' You are the mother 
of devils ! ' 

The Shirazi laughed. * Then talk sense, and remember 
your promise.' 

Ali Akbar knew his sister. If he offended her she 
was capable of anything. 

He sighed and helped himself from the flask of 

*Let me think for a minute. I will do what I 
promised, but it is not easy to see a way.' 

He called for his kalian and took a few deep draughts 
of smoke. Then he blew it out from his lungs, and 
passed the pipe to his sister. 

* Listen,' he said. ' If you must do badi to the girl, 
there is a way. You know what this blood-drinker is. 
While he is making up his mind he will hear all that 



you have to say, but once he has given an order, woe 
betide any one who says a word. To interfere in 
favour of a man he has condemned is like taking the 
prey from the mouth of a lion. The girl is soft-hearted 
and a fool. Get her to speak for the Vali Ahd.' 

' Shukrullah ! Thanks be to God ! By the beard of 
the Prophet, you have hit it. When you are not in 
one of your childish fits you have more brains than all 
the rest of them put together. But how is it to be 
done ? Fool as she is she would suspect if I said any- 
thing. Bale? Yes?' 

* Of course you must say nothing. It must come 
from outside. We must have nothing to do with 

His vanity was flattered by his sister's words, and his 
professional pride was roused. 

* If she were like other women I would get at her 
through a mulla, but that is no use. She is not a 
Mussulman. I have found it! She is always with 
those dogs of Christians. And the Vali Ahd showed 
them favour in Ispahan. The Armenian high priest 
will want to save him.' 

' Wonderful ! Your intellect is as keen as a tempered 
sword. But how are we to get at the Catolicos? 
We have no time to lose. To-morrow it may be too 

* Leave that to me. I will see him to-night. I will 
set him to work on the girl through that Christian 
wife of Ali Kuli's. They are friends, and Ali Kuli was 
always hand in hand with the Vali Ahd.' 

* Good. By all the Imams, you are cleverer than 
King Sulieman.' 

* Ah ! and I was a child just now, and the grandfather 
of asses.' 


* Bashad, bashad. Let that be. When you choose 
you can laugh at any man's beard. There is no one 
like you.' 

* You are a Shaitan, but listen.' He was playing the 
game now con amove. * There is another arrow to this 
bow, and that is for you to shoot. You know the Vali 
Ahd's mother. She is old, and the Shah never sees 
her. She knows she can do nothing herself. Get her 
to go to the Indian girl.' 

* Alas ! alas ! I saw her a week ago, and laughed at 
her. She hates me now.' 

* What short-sight is this ? Why will you always 
make enemies for nothing ? Have I not told you a 
thousand times that if you scatter the seed of sweet 
words, some of it will bear fruit in time of need ? But 
the old woman will catch at any chance. Get one of 
your women to speak to one of hers.' 

* I was a fool. I am not far-seeing, like you. But it 
is true our women know each other.' 

* Go, then, and do what you can. Without doubt we 
shall have this bird in the net. We will show them 
what Persians are.' 

* Inshallah ! Please God.' 

The brother and sister said good-night. 

*Khuda Hafiz — the Lord be your protector'; and 
parted affectionately. 

So it came to pass that before noon the next day, 
Sitara found herself in sore trouble. First, Ali Kuli's 
Georgian wife came to her, and pressed her to intercede 
with Nadir. The Georgian pictured Reza Khan's 
horrible fate — blinded for life in the first flush of his 
youth and strength. * And he was always kind to us 
Christians. Shall we not do something to help him ? 
Would Hazrat i Isa have stood by and let this thing 


be ? If you are not a Christian, you are very near it. 
Help us now, and the God of the Christians will 
protect you.' 

Her words were the words of the Catolicos, whom 
Ali Akbar had ensnared. Her woman's wit taught her 
a better argument. 

* It is for the good of the Shah. He is angry now, 
but if he does it he will repent it all his life, as Abbas 
the Great repented it, and every one will condemn him. 
Save him from himself. Only you can do it. I know 
it is a hard thing to ask of you, but you are brave. It 
will soon be over, and he will love you all the better 
for it hereafter.' 

In vain Sitara pleaded the hopelessness of the 
attempt, and the cruelty of forcing it upon her. 

' I know him. I know him,' she said. * He will think 
I do not care that his life should be in danger. He 
will never forgive me or trust me again. I shall lose 
his love, and it will kill me. Oh ! I cannot. I cannot.' 

The Georgian left her in deep distress. She had 
hardly been alone a minute when Reza Khan's mother 
came to her. If her interview with the Georgian had 
been painful, this was a thousand times worse. The 
stricken woman was tall and upright still, with the 
remains of a beauty which had once been the delight 
of Nadir's eyes. She had been the wife of his youth. 
But now she was old, as age goes in the East. Her hair 
was grey, and the once beautiful face was worn and 
faded. Forgetful of all but the boy she had nursed 
at her breast, she threw herself at Sitara's feet. 

*Az barde Khudd! — for God's sake, Kh^num, save 
him, save him. Have mercy and save him. I swear 
that he is innocent. You are young and beautiful, and 
the Shah loves you. Say one word. Oh ! I know the 


Shah ; I know how terrible he is ; but they say you are 
brave and kind-hearted. Have pity, have pity.' And 
she clung to the feet of the woman who had won her 
husband's love, covering them with kisses and tears. 
Sitara tried to raise her. 

* O Khdnum ! ' she said, * do not kneel to me. What 
am I that I should speak ? You are the mother of his 
children. Surely he will listen to you.' 

But the woman would not rise. 

' No,' she said, ' he will not listen to me. I tried to 
go to him before, but he would not see me. I am old, 
and his love has long gone from me. But he is 
generous. He was never hard to me in old days. You 
are young and beautiful, and he loves you. He will 
listen to you.' 

*0h! I cannot. I cannot. You do not know what 
you ask. It is more than my life.' 

*Ai wahi! wahi! Have pity, have pity. I will not 
let you go till you promise. I will not.' 

What was it to the mother that she was asking 
another woman to peril her happiness and her life? 
All thought of herself and her pride had gone, and now 
there was no room in her heart for thought of another. 
*Have pity, have pity,' she wailed. *He is so young 
and strong and beautiful. Do not leave him to blind- 
ness and misery for all his life. Have pity, have pity.' 

It was more than Sitara could bear. The grey head 
at her feet maddened her. She threw up her hands in 
despair. * He will never forgive me,' she said—* never, 
never, and I shall die. But I will go. Now for God's 
sake leave me.' 

* You will go ? You promise ? Swear to me that you 
will go to-day, now, this hour, or it may be too late. 


' I will go directly the Shah returns from the Diwan 
Khaneh. I swear it. Now leave me. O KhanumI 
have a little pity, you who ask for pity.' 

The old woman rose from her knees, her face alight 
with hope, and poured out blessings upon the girl's 
head. But Sitara made no answer. 

The Shirazi was standing at the curtain of her door- 
way when Reza Khan's mother passed. The elder 
woman's veil was down, but her walk and manner 
showed that she had succeeded. A smile of triumph 
came over the Shirazi's face. 

'Praise be to God! Now, black girl, we shall see 
who wins. Inshallah, it will be the last time you will 
see his face.' 

Sitara lay on her cushions sobbing. The scene she 
had passed through had broken her down, and for a 
few moments she felt as if she could not go on. But 
soon she controlled herself and rose to her feet. She 
had promised, and she would not break her word. 
There was no time to lose. She sent a woman to ask 
the Agha Bashi to come to her. By the time he came 
she was quiet and resolute. 

The negro had guessed something of what was pass- 
ing, and his face showed his concern. She told him in 
a few words what she had done, and he broke into 
angry protest. 

'Khanum,' he said, 'it is madness. The Shah has 
made up his mind. Nothing enrages him so much as 
interference when he has given his orders. For God's 
sake do not go. They should never have asked you. 
It is playing with your life.' 

'I know,' Sitara said, 'but I have promised. When 
his mother came I could not bear it, and I promised.' 

* It is a shame and wickedness. Khanum, what is 


the use of it ? You have no proof of his innocence. It 
looks as if he had been guilty. What can you say ? ' 

' I know. There is nothing to be said for him. Per- 
haps it is better so. I will only say his mother came 
to me, and asked for mercy.' 

* It will be useless. It will only make him mad with 
rage. Khanum, give it up. Do not go.' 

Sitara laid her hand on the negro's arm. *Agha 
Sahib,' she said, 'you have always been kind to me, 
and I know you are right. It is madness. But I have 
promised, and who can say what may happen? The 
Shah used to love the Yali Ahd, and the hearts of 
kings are in the hand of God. I must go. You can 
only do one thing for me now. Take the stone to the 
Shah and ask him to see me.' 

For a time the negro refused. *If you will go, I 
cannot prevent you,' he said, * but I will have no hand 
in it.' 

His refusal was useless. He saw that it only dis- 
tressed her without shaking her resolve. At last he 
gave way. Evidently she meant to go, and perhaps if 
he prepared Nadir for her coming, he might do some 
good. He took the seal and went to Nadir's room. 
Nadir was still in the Diwan Khaneh, and was not 
expected until sunset. 

That morning Nadir had sent the Hakim to Reza 
Khan asking ' for the last time ' whether his son had 
anything to say. When Nadir returned, hoping against 
hope, the Hakim was summoned. He reported that 
Reza Khan had answered, *I have done no wrong — I 
have nothing else to say.' As a matter of fact, the old 
man had done his utmost to induce Reza Khan to send 
a different message — at least an apology for his words 
of the night before, but he had failed. 

From Hanivay's * Travels 


' It is no use,' Reza Khan said. * I am doomed. For 
God's sake go and torment me no more.' 

Before taking leave of Nadir, the Hakim spoke out 

' The Yali Ahd is without hope,' he said, * and he is 
too proud and sore to ask for mercy. But let the Shah 
consider that he is young, and that he thinks he has 
been unjustly condemned. May the King of Kings 
forgive me, but I must speak once more. I am old, 
and shall soon seek the pardon of God. I cannot stand 
before Him if I remain silent now. In my judgment 
the Yali Ahd is innocent. Some enemy has induced 
the Yusufzai to accuse him falsely.' 

Nadir answered, * It is enough. You are dismissed.' 

The Hakim looked in his face and knew that all was 

As he walked away from the door he heard Nadir 
call for the head nasakchi, the man who inflicted his 
punishments. The fatal order was given. 

When the Agha Bashi entered, Nadir was sitting 
alone. His face wore a look of the deepest gloom. He 
looked up slowly. ' What, you too ? What have you 
to say ? Be careful.' 

The negro's heart sank, and he hesitated. 

*May I be your sacrifice,' he said, his head bowed, 
and his eyes on the ground. *Sitara Khanum begs 
leave to kiss the Shah's feet. She told me to show this 
stone to the Shah.' 

Nadir started. 

' Are you mad,' he said, * that you all conspire against 
me ? By God ! you are playing with your lives. You 
should not have allowed her to send the message.' 

* May the Shah forgive me. I did all I could to pre- 
vent her, but she would not listen. She did not ask of 


her own accord. The Vali Ahd's mother was with her 
and made her promise.' 

* Let her come.' 

But Nadir's heart was sore against the woman he 
had loved. Surely she at least might have spared him 
in his misery. 




A FEW minutes later Sitara entered the room and 
dropped the curtain behind her. After one glance 
at Nadir's face she stood before him with her head 
bowed. Never before had she seen such a look in 
his eyes — a look of mingled pain and wrath which 
almost broke her resolve. Her heart was beating 
wildly, and a mist seemed to be gathering about her. 
His voice recalled her to herself. 

'So you have come — you too. What have you to 

For a moment she could not speak. She longed 
to throw herself at his feet, and to pour out all 
the devotion that was in her heart. What was the 
Vali Ahd to her? But she thought of the grey- 
haired mother pleading for her first-born, and made a 
desperate effort to be true to her trust. 

' My Lord,' she said, ' I am not worthy to be forgiven. 
I have no right to speak. I am nothing, and you have 
given me all. My life is yours.' 

'Words, words. You came to ask for something. 
What is it?' 

'My Lord,' she said, with a voice that trembled in 
spite of her, ' they say that the Prince has fallen 
under your displeasure and been condemned to punish- 

' He tried to murder me and deserved death. I have 


spared his life, but he must not be able to do evil any 

He spoke in a level voice which gave her courage. 

' My Lord, I know nothing. What can I know ? But 
they say he is innocent.' 

* You know nothing, and yet you take advantage of 
my promise to come and thrust your hand into an 
affair which is not for a woman.' 

* Oh ! my Lord, forgive me for presuming. It is 
true that I know nothing. If my Lord says he is 
guilty, he is guilty and deserves death. But my 
Lord ' 

* But what?' 

*My Lord, he is your son. Have pity. Do not 
darken his life for ever. He has been foolish, if 
not worse; but he will never forget if you have 

Nadir laughed. 

* Oh ! my Lord, let me say a word for your service. 
His mother came to me. It is killing her, and she 
came to me. Have pity. They say he is innocent, and 
innocent or guilty, what can he do ? If you spare him, 
all men will praise you. If not, your heart is great 
and generous; it will be a grief to you in time to 
come, and you will have no peace. My Lord, for your 
own sake, spare him. He is so young, and he is your 

Till then Nadir had remained master of himself. 
Now a wave of wrath surged over him. So this was 
the meaning of it all? Reza Khan was young, like 
herself, and he was old. Compared with the suffering 
of a boy, a traitor and murderer, his life was nothing 
to the woman he had loved and trusted. His deep voice 
was hoarse and broken now. 



*Go,' he said. 'If anything were wanting to make 
me punish him, your words would be enough. I have 
given the order, and it is being carried out. Now he 
shall die.' 

She threw herself on the ground before him. 

* Oh ! my Lord, have pity ! Do not let me feel I have 
killed him.' 

Nadir dragged her roughly to her feet. 

As he did so there came from his son's room the 
muffled sound of a struggle, and of men's voices. 

' Go ! ' he cried, ' and never let me see your face again. 
Go ! Faithless and shameless that you are.' 

The words wrung from her a passionate cry. 

* No ! No ! Hear me. Only hear me ! ' 
She was pleading for herself now. 

She clung to his arm with a last desperate effort. 

* Hear me, my Lord. Only hear me ! ' 

He tried to fling her from him, but could not. What 
but a guilty love could give her such strength ? 

* Hear me. Only hear me ! ' and through it all there 
came to his ears a dreadful sound, a shuddering gasp 
and moan of agony which told him all was over. 
A fierce oath broke from him, and his axe rose in 
the air. 

She saw it, and threw up her arm with a cry, but the 
blow fell, beating down the feeble guard. 

Nadir stood for a moment, dazed with horror, looking 
at the girl who lay at his feet, a stream of blood welling 
from her temple across the floor. 

Then, with madness in his eyes, he turned away. 



Nadir sought relief in a night of reckless drinking. 
At last the tumult in his brain was dulled, and he slept 

He woke to a sudden horror of remembrance. He 
heard again the moan of agony which burst from the 
lips of his son, the son who would live henceforth to 
hate him and curse him in darkness. He saw at his 
feet the woman he had loved beyond all women, lying 
in her blood, stricken down by his own hand. Then, 
fierce with drink and misery, he rose to face the life 
he had made for himself. 

As he took his seat in his hall of audience and 
looked about him with angry bloodshot eyes, it seemed 
to him that all shrank from before him. The punish- 
ments he inflicted that morning were swift and 
horrible. A score of maimed wretches went wailing 
into the streets from the palace gateway, and as he 
left the Diwan Khaneh to return to his own quarters, 
the people about him were silent and terror-stricken. 
It seemed to him that he saw reproach in their faces 
as well as fear, and he hated them for it. 

As he entered his quarters, the sunlight was over- 
cast. A storm had come up from the Caspian, and 
heavy clouds had gathered upon the mountain-range 
to the north. Now they broke over the crest of the 
range, and swept down upon the plain. 

Nadir passed to a room overlooking the palace 


garden, and took his seat on his takht near an open 
window. A few minutes later the sky was the colour 
of lead, the thunder was rolling among the hills, and 
the ponds in the garden were bristling with rain- drops. 
Nadir gazed out with a gloomy face. 

A servant came into the room, stepping noiselessly 
in his woollen socks upon the thick carpets that 
covered the floor. He coughed slightly to attract 
attention, and startled Nadir, who turned upon him 

* The curse of God be on you ! What is it now ? ' 

*May I be the Shah's sacrifice. The Hakim Bashi 
asks if he may kiss the Shah's feet.' 

Nadir frowned. He guessed why the Hakim had 
come. When he left India, the Hakim had been starting 
upon the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and Nadir had 
detained him. Ever since then the Hakim had been 
anxious to get away, and of late he had shown signs 
of impatience. Nadir had put him off on one pretext 
or another. He trusted no other physician as he did 
Alavi Khan, and was reluctant to lose him. Finally 
he had told the Hakim to speak to him again in a 

' Let the Hakim Bashi come,' he said. 

The old man walked into the room, saluted deeply, 
and remained standing some paces off. His face was 
grave, and his eyes cast down. 

* What is it. Hakim Sahib ? ' 

' May I be forgiven for troubling the Shah. The last 
time I presented my request, the Shah ordered me to 
wait a week. The week is over.' 

* Is it really necessary for you to go ? I have always 
treated you as a friend. Cannot you stay until I 
return from Daghestan ? ' 


*The Shah's favours have been much more than I 
deserve, but my going is necessary.' 

The Hakim paused, looked up, and added slowly, 
* I no longer feel that I am safe in the Shah's service.' 

*Not safe? Who would dare to do you evil while 
you are under my protection ? ' 

* No one among the Shah's people would dare to do 
me evil, but I might incur the Shah's displeasure, as 
many others have done. The Shah himself might 
slay me, as he slew the Indian Khanum yesterday.' 

It was a bold speech, so bold that it might hav^e 
cost any other man his life, but the Hakim knew his 
power over Nadir, and had weighed his words. He 
was determined to go, and determined also that before 
he went he would speak plainly. Sitara was not dead, 
and would probably not die. For her sake, and for 
the sake of Nadir himself, he would risk something. 
If Nadir had deliberately intended to kill her, he would 
get the girl away, and save her life at least. If, as he 
hoped. Nadir showed any sign of regret, all might 
even now be put right. Nadir had never been known 
to strike a woman. Whatever he might have done now 
in a moment of madness, he would surely be ashamed 
of such an act. And he had seemed to love the girl. 

The Hakim was right. At that moment Nadir had 
been thinking of her with passionate regret and long- 
ing, and there had been growing in his heart a faint 
hope that she was not dead. The reproach in the 
old man's words passed unheeded, or at least un- 

*Ah, she is dead,' Nadir said carelessly. *She de- 
served death.' 

*Has the King's arm grown weak that he should 
smite in vain, and a woman ? ' 


* What have they done with her ? ' 

' It was said that she had become a Christian. The 
Armenians took her body away — to bury her.' 

Nadir sat silent, and the Hakim searched his face 
with a quick glance. He fancied that he had caught 
in Nadir's voice a tone of anxiety. His face showed 
no signs of it. After a moment Nadir spoke again, 
and his words put an end to any hope. His accursed 
pride made him conceal all that was good in him. 

* It is well. She was disloyal and faithless, and her 
death was necessary.' 

* As for you, I will not detain you any longer. For 
six months you may be absent. Go and do your Haj. 
While you are in other countries you will see how 
needful it is for kings to punish treason. Have you 
not seen it in Hindustan ? I know that you are faith- 
ful yourself, but you are too scrupulous. Go and think 
of it all, and when you return, do not forget. Inter- 
ference on behalf of traitors is not wise or prudent. 
You may go ; you have permission.' 

The Hakim laid his hand on his breast and bent 
low. A deep indignation was in his heart, but with 
it wa? something of sorrow for his master. 

*I am grateful to the Shah for his kindness to me. 
Let the Shah forgive me if I speak one word for the 
service of the Shah. I have been faithful. I have 
never wished to interfere on behalf of traitors. But it 
may be that the Shah is sometimes deceived by those 
who are serving their own interests. To punish the 
innocent is not for the good of the Shah. It makes 
the heart of the people hot. The Shah is great and 
powerful. Who can do anything against him ? Better 
that the guilty should escape than that innocent men 
should suffer.' 



Nadir frowned and moved impatiently on his seat. 

* Hakim Sahib, you are a good man, but you do not 
understand. I know my business. A king cannot 
uphold his power without some hardness. You are 
dismissed. Go, and God protect you.' 

The words were a command, and the Hakim saw 
that it was useless to say more. With another deep 
reverence he passed from the room. 

When he was gone, Nadir remained for an hour 
alone, thinking over all that had passed. It was an 
hour of torment, for reason as he would he could not 
dismiss from his mind some lingering doubt as to the 
guilt of his son. And as to Sitara he had no doubt. 
She had been faithful and had loved him. How she 
had loved him ! And how beautiful she was ! Never 
again would he find a woman who would be to him 
what she had been. And in a moment of fury he had 
thrown it all away. Fool, fool that he had been. And 
the shame of it. All men would know. The life of a 
woman, and a foreigner, was nothing to them, but 
that men should say he had slain her with his own 
hand! Even the Kizlbash would speak shame of 

He turned for relief to the work before him. Once 
on the march against the Lesghis he would forget it 
all. By God ! they should pay dearly for their insolence. 
Their men should be hunted down in their mountain 
fastnesses, and their women given over to his soldiery. 
The blood of his brother would be fearfully avenged. 

He worked hard all day, issuing the final orders. At 

night, when all was ready for the start, he went to the 

tent of the Shirdzi. She would help him to forget. In 

her eyes at least he would find no reproach. 

She responded well to the call, Never had she been 


so bright and pleasant. Not a word was said about 
the horrors of the day before. She saw clearly enough 
the feelings that underlay his reckless manner, and 
she carefully avoided anything that could stir them up. 
Instead she plied him with wine and merry stories till 
he laughed loud and long. Her eyes were shining and 
her wit was keen. At times she looked almost beauti- 
ful, and her lascivious caresses stirred his blood. For 
a moment at least the past was forgotten. 



The next morning, soon after daybreak, Nadir marched 
away with his Court to join the army at Kasvin. The 
storm had rolled back among the mountains, leaving 
the sky without a cloud. After the rain the air was 
clear and cool. A sprinkling of fresh snow lay upon 
the summits of the range. 

He felt happier as he rode out of the Kasvin gate, 
towards the long blue point where the mountain-range 
seemed to sink into the western plain. He was once 
more in the saddle, with war and excitement before 
him ; and the Kizlbash rejoiced to see him again looking 
like the Nadir of old, his tall figure erect, his hand 
resting lightly on his axe, his eyes bright with pleasure 
as his Turkoman charger broke into a gallop. 

But he rode no more with the Kurk. Since the 
attempt on his life he had determined that for the 
future he would remain surrounded by his troops. In 
truth, he had no desire to face the Kurk just now. 
The Agha Bashi's sorrowful face troubled him, and he 
shrank from the sight of the cavalcade in which he 
would never again set eyes on the graceful form of the 
woman he had loved. He galloped forward along 
the broad flat track worn by the feet of innumerable 
camels and horses and men, and close behind him rode 
a hundred of his bodyguard. 

In the dreary palace at Tehrdn, deserted now by the 
swarms of troops and attendants of the Court which 


From Hanway's ' Travels ' {the royal plume is incorrectly shown on the left 
instead of the right side of the turban) 



had peopled it, the blind Prince lay with bandaged 
face, still tortured by the pain of the red-hot iron 
which had burnt out the sight from his eyeballs, cursing 
the day he was born, and cursing above all the man 
who had given him birth. Not far away, in the 
Anderun of the Hakim, lay Nadir's other victim, the 
woman who loved him, unconscious and tormented by 
the phantoms of fever and delirium. 

When Nadir struck, he had not meant to kill her. 
His one desire in the sudden frenzy of the moment had 
been to shake off the grip of her clinging hands, and 
put an end to the importunity which was maddening 
him. He had struck with the back of his weapon, and 
even in the act, when her arm went up, he had tried to 
check the blow. But it was too late. The axe had 
fallen, driving into her temple the jewelled bracelet 
which she wore upon her wrist. 

When the Agha Bashi lifted her from the ground, 
she seemed to be dead; and the kind-hearted negro, 
who really loved the girl, carried her away in his arms 
with the tears pouring down his beardless face. But 
he sent at once for the Hakim, and a moment's 
examination was enough to show that, though stunned 
and sorely wounded, she was alive. A hasty con- 
sultation followed, and they decided to remove her to 
the Hakim's own Anderun, where she would be safe 
from all eyes. They gave out that she was dead, and 
her women were transferred by the Agha Bashi to 
another of Nadir's ladies. The women helped them- 
selves before going to some of Sitara's clothes and 
money, but the Agha Bashi took over * for the Shah ' 
her jewels and a box of gold which Nadir had given 
her during one of his fits of generosity. Before he 
marched away with the Kurk the Agha Bashi handed 


these over to the Hakim, sure they would be safe with 
him. He handed over also Sitara's emerald seal, which 
Nadir had not taken from him. 

The only man who was told of their action was the 
Catolicos. He had been instrumental in sending her 
to Nadir, and he was distressed at the result. It 
seemed to the Hakim that she would for the future be 
safer among the Armenians. The Catolicos at once 
fell in with the plan, and promised to take charge of 
her when she was well enough. 

It was fortunate that they acted so promptly, for 
before many hours had passed, Sitara had partly 
recovered from the shock and had begun to moan and 
cry out. 

She was unconscious, and some days passed before 
her brain awoke to full remembrance. Meanwhile, she 
was incessantly going over the scene, pleading for 
mercy to Reza Khan, or throwing up her arm with 
a look of terror in her face. 

When she did return to consciousness, she found 
herself in a strange room, and the face of the woman 
who was watching by her bedside was unknown to her. 
She lay for a few moments collecting her thoughts, and 
gradually the remembrance of what had passed came 
back to her mind. She put up her hand to her head 
and found that it was swathed in bandages. She felt 
weak and confused. 

* Where am I ? ' she said. * Please call my women.' 

* You have been ill, Khdnum,' the woman answered, 
* but you are better now, and safe in the Andertin of 
the Hakim Bashi. I will call him.' 

A few minutes later the Hakim was standing by her. 
A look of pleasure came over his face as he met her 



* Thanks be to God,' he said. *Now, Inshallah, you 
will soon be well again, but you must lie still and not 

'Have you been taking care of me. Hakim Sahib? 
There was an accident. I fell and hurt myself. It 
is very good of the Shah to send you to me. How 
long have I been here? Why am I not in my own 
rooms ? ' 

'Khanum, you have been very ill. You have been 
here some days. Now you will soon be well if you will 
rest and be quiet.' 

But she could not rest till she knew more. Her eyes 
grew bright with eagerness, and her face flushed. 

* Hakim Sahib, tell the Shah it is nothing, and that 
I am well again. He was always kind to me. He will 
be anxious. Go and tell him it is nothing. You will 
go, and bring me his answer ? ' 

A look of pain and pity came into the old man's 
face, and Sitara saw that he knew. She turned away 
her eyes. 

'You will go. Hakim Sahib,' she said again. *Say 
my heart is burning because I troubled the Shah, and 
that I cannot rest till he has forgiven me. You will go 
now, at once ? ' 

The Hakim tried to quiet her, but in vain. Her one 
desire was for a word of kindness from the man she 

' Khanum,' he said at last, * I cannot go to the Shah 
now. He is with the camp at Kasvin.' 

A cry broke from her. 

' And they have left me behind ! Oh ! I must go. I 
cannot stay here. I am well now, Hakim Sahib. I am 
quite fit to travel in a takht i ravan. Let the arrange- 
ments be made at once.' 


Then he saw that it was useless to attempt any 
further concealment, and well as he knew the risk, he 
told her all — even to the bitter words the Shah had 
spoken about her. 

* You see, Khanum,' he said, ' your going now would 
be madness, even if you were fit to travel. You must 
wait. In time, please God, the Shah's anger will pass 
away. But now, if he knew you were alive, he would 
give the order, and you would die a dreadful death. 
You must wait.' 

But she would not be persuaded. 

* Better so,' she said. ' Even if it means death I will 
go. It is better for me to die than be cast away. 
What is life to me? But I know the Shah. He was 
always kind to women, and he loved me. He never 
meant to hurt me, whatever he may have said. He 
will be grieving for it now. I must go to him. I 
must go.' 

Then the Hakim tried his last argument. It would 
have been better if he had tried it before. 

* Khanum,' he said, * if you do not care for your own 
life, you must think of others. The Agha Bashi and 
the Catolicos were always your friends. At the risk of 
their lives they saved you and sent you here. If the 
Shah learns that they have deceived him they will 
suffer death. Will you sacrifice them too ? ' 

Sitara made a gesture of despair. 

* Oh ! why did they not let me die ? Why did they 
deceive the Shah ? They were faithless and deserve 

Then she broke into a storm of tears, and the Hakim 
knew that he had prevailed. As she lay with her face 
buried in her arms he turned and left her. 

A few hours later she sent for him again. She was 


calm and clear-headed now in spite of the excitement 
of his first visit. 

' Hakim Sahib,' she said, * I have been mad and un- 
grateful. I see that you are right. I will wait. But it 
is not for myself. God knows I would sooner die. You 
will let me know as soon as you think it safe for them, 
and I will go. You promise me that ? ' 

The Hakim gave his promise, though he had little 
hope it would ever be fulfilled. 

From that time Sitara did all he told her. 

The sooner she was strong again, the sooner she 
would be able to obey the summons which she felt sure 
would not be long delayed. 


chapte;r XXX 

A FEW days later Sitara was taken over in a closed 
takht i ravan to the house of an Armenian family with 
whom she was to remain. When she was set down 
and drew aside her curtains, she found herself in a 
room close to an open window which looked out upon 
a garden full of trees and flowers. The good Hakim 
himself helped her from her litter. By his side was 
standing a tall, elderly woman in Armenian dress, 
whose sweet face brought her a sudden sense of 
comfort. The two of them moved her to a couch by 
the window, and made her lie down. 

*Khanum,' the Hakim said, 'you are now among 
friends. The lady Miriam is well known to the 
Catolicos, and will show you every kindness. I know 
I can safely leave you in her care.' 

The Armenian knelt down by Sitara's side, and took 
one of the girl's hands in both her own. 

* The Khanum will be like a daughter to me,' she said 
in a gentle, well-bred voice. 

The Hakim smiled. * Khuda Hafiz Khanum,' he said, 
* God protect you. I shall be able to tell the Agha 
Bashi that I have left you well and in good hands.' 

Sitara tried to thank him for all his goodness, but he 
stopped her. 

*It is nothing, Khdnum. I am a Hakim. What I 
have done any one else would have done. It is 


Sitara said only one word more : 

*You will remember, Hakim Sahib? You will not 
forget what you promised me ? ' 

' No, Khanum, I will not forget. Khuda Hafiz,' and 
with a salutation to the Armenian he left the two 
women alone. 

Miriam sat for a time by Sitara's side, comforting her 
with gentle words. She told the girl she knew all, and 
that Sitara need never be afraid of speaking to her 
quite freely. 'As to the Shah,' she said, 'every one 
knows that he was always kind and gentle to women. 
It was all a mistake, and in time all will come right. 
You will stay with us a little while, and then, please 
God, the way will open and you will be happy again. 
Keep up your heart and get strong and well, and all 
will come right.' 

Then she told Sitara about herself. Her husband 
was a merchant, and was absent with the camp. Her 
only son was dead, and for the present she was alone, 
but her husband came back at intervals, and would not 
be long away. Besides the house in the city he owned 
part of the village of Yerawa, some miles off, where 
Miriam usually went in the summer. All in the village 
were her own people, and Sitara would be quiet there 
and in safety. They would start as soon as she felt 
well enough to stand the journey. 

Before the Armenian went away, leaving Sitara to 
rest for an hour or two, the girl knew that she had 
found a friend. 

She lay by the open window and looked out upon the 
garden below. It was full of beautiful sights and 
sounds. Although it lay in the heart of the town, and 
the Persian summer was upon them, the air was cool 
and pleasant. A light breeze stirred the leaves of the 


chinars, and brought a silvery shimmer to the poplars. 
Rivulets of running water washed the roots of the 
trees, and murmured through the garden. Along their 
edges the tiger lilies blazed like flame ; and the scent 
of numberless roses filled the air. From the thicket 
under the wall the nightingales were singing de- 
liciously. A blackbird's slow rich whistle sounded 
from the summit of a sycamore. A pair of blue jays 
had built in the wall near the window, and a friendly 
hoopoe lit on the window-sill with its crest erect, and 
a soft * Wu hu ' of greeting. Among the green of the 
trees were one or two scarlet spots where the pome- 
granate was in blossom. Beyond, above the garden 
wall and the flat roofs of the houses, Sitara could see, 
a few miles away to the north, the long range of the 
Elburz, its summits still white with snow, the mighty 
cone of Demavend towering out above the rest. And 
to her wounded heart there came a sense of wonder 
and peace. 

She remained there a week, and then one morning 
she and Miriam seated themselves in closed * Kejavehs ' 
on the back of a sturdy mule, and started for their 
summer home. With them were some other Armenian 
women and a guard of servants. As they wound 
through the narrow streets of the town there was 
much noise and dust, the camels and mules and 
donkeys jostling one another amid the shouts and 
blows of their drivers. These were rough, powerful- 
looking men, who cursed the Armenians for Christian 
dogs. The air was heavy and foul. But the streets 
were soon left behind, and the little caravan, passing 
through a gateway in the earthen wall which enclosed 
the town, came out into the open country. Looking 
through the curtains of her kejaveh, Sitara saw before 




her a stony plain rising gently to the foot of the 
mountains which lay across the northern sky. Straight 
in front was the rounded summit of the great Tuchal, 
where patches of snow still lay among the grass and 
rocks. In the morning air every fold and wrinkle on 
its flanks stood out as clearly as if they had been a 
mile away. 

As the mules with their tinkling bells picked their 
way along the narrow track through the stones, rising 
almost insensibly for an hour or two, the air grew 
cooler and keener. At last, before the heat of the sun 
had begun to tell, the caravan reached the foot of the 
mountain, and Sitara saw before them her future 
home. It was a little Armenian village surrounded by 
an earthen wall, with towers at the corners. About it 
were some corn-fields, beginning to turn yellow. The 
road wound through them. They were full of corn- 
flowers and scarlet poppies, and along their edges 
shone the delicate blue stars of the chicory. Before 
the gateway of the village were a few white mulberry- 
trees, into which some Armenian boys were throwing 
up stones. Beyond the village a little fan of cultiva- 
tion pushed up into a fold in the stony flank of the 
mountain. A cold stream, fed from the snows above, 
came foaming down through a channel of rough 
boulders, and on both sides of it grew apple orchards 
and poplars and plane-trees. 

Hidden away in its little valley, with no human 
habitation within miles of it, the village looked 
strangely calm and peaceful. 

Sitara stepped from her kejaveh in the courtyard of 
one of the village houses, where Miriam was standing 
ready to receive her. 

* Khush Amadid, Khanum,' she said, her sweet face 



bright with pleasure, 'welcome to your own house. 
May the blessing of God be on you.' 

There, surrounded by kindly faces, health and 
strength coming back to her daily in the pure mountain 
air, Sitara began her new life. 

The thoughtful care of the Agha Bashi had placed 
her beyond the reach of want. In the metal-bound 
chest which the Hakim had handed over to her when 
he left Tehran, was a store of gold pieces sufficient to 
support her for years if need be, and prevent her be- 
coming a burden on her Armenian friends. 

Sadly enough, but with hope in her heart, she settled 
down to face her future. 


I t 



Nadir had marched with his army to the Caucasus, 
and had entered upon his long-deferred campaign 
against the Lesghis. 

He had undertaken a difficult task. The Lesghis 
occupied a rugged tract of mountain and forest into 
which it was almost impossible for troops to penetrate. 
The grassy valleys in which they pastured their flocks 
were hardly free from snow even in summer. The 
inaccessible crags above them were the home of the 
eagle and the wild goat. In winter, rain and mist, 
snow and ice, made the country impassable. Safe in 
these fastnesses, a hardy race of mountaineers had 
maintained their freedom for ages. It was a Persian 
proverb : * If any King of Iran is a fool, let him march 
against the Lesghis.' 

Blinded by a course of unbroken success, and enraged 
at the defeat and death of his brother. Nadir had long 
ago determined to break down the mountain barrier 
and to subdue once for all the fierce tribesmen who 
had dared to defy the greatest conqueror of the 

Now that he had arrived on their borders his wrath 
against them had become a consuming passion. During 
the march from Tehran he had thought long and 
deeply upon the events of the past few months, and 
the scales had fallen from his eyes. Day after day as 


he rode on to the westward, remorse had fastened 
more fiercely upon him, until at last he seemed half 
maddened by it. The only thing which relieved him 
was the thought of his coming revenge. He turned 
upon the Lesghis with a rage born of unendurable 
misery, and the punishment which he vowed to inflict 
on them was so savage that even his soldiers wondered 
at his words. Never before had he shown such a 
spirit of hate towards an enemy in the field. 

At first it seemed as if his boasts might be fulfilled. 
A contingent of Afghans sent on in advance, men 
trained from their birth to mountain warfare, had 
obtained some partial success against the tribes; and 
when Nadir arrived with his great army, a portion of 
the southern Lesghis came in with offers of sub- 

They were deported, with all their families and 
possessions, to make a new home for themselves in a 
distant part of Persia; and their clansmen, fearing a 
like fate, resolved to die rather than surrender. 

The early autumn of the mountains had already 
begun when Nadir crossed the border. He was met by 
a skilful enemy defending every cliff and forest pass 
with desperate courage. It was a warfare of ambus- 
cades and night surprises. Entangled in wooded defiles 
where they could rarely see and never reach their 
enemy, his troops were harassed and shot down in 
mist and rain and snow, nntil they became completely 
disheartened. The main body eventually succeeded in 
piercing a portion of the range and establishing them- 
selves at the town of Derbend in the open country 
beyond. But they had suffered very severely, and it 
soon became clear that for the moment further 
advance was impossible. The army was withdrawn 


into winter-quarters, losing heavily at every step of 
the retreat. 

In the spring they advanced again, led by Nadir in 
person, and hewing a broad road through the wooded 
glens, they gained some measure of success. But again 
their losses were very heavy. One large detachment 
was hemmed in between snowy mountains and cut to 
pieces. The force left in the rear to maintain Nadir's 
communications was fiercely attacked, and hardly 
succeeded in repulsing the enemy. Even the main 
body under Nadir's command narrowly escaped dis- 
aster. Gathering round it unseen, the mountaineers 
suddenly fell upon it at night, and threw it into the 
greatest confusion. They were eventually beaten off, 
but they succeeded in carrying away a considerable 
quantity of treasure, and almost penetrated to Nadir's 
own tent. 

It was with a force sorely reduced in numbers, and 
discouraged by constant defeats, that Nadir extricated 
himself at the close of his second campaign. 

He had now fully realised the fact that it was useless 
to attack the mountaineers in front, and drive them 
back from one almost inaccessible fastness to another. 
The only course which seemed to hold out hopes of 
success was to occupy the country in their rear, and 
enclose their mountains by a chain of troops. For this 
purpose the mastery of the Caspian Sea was of great 
importance, as Nadir would thus be able to turn the 
Caucasus, and land troops and supplies at Derbend. 

It happened that at this time an English company 
was endeavouring to open up a trade with the northern 
provinces of Persia through Russian territory. Among 
its servants was an English sailor of the name of 
Elton, a man of courage and resource, who had been 



recommended to Nadir by George ii. of England. 
Some small armed vessels had already been built for 
the company. One of its merchants, Hanway, who 
visited Persia at this time, describes how he and his 
companions arrived at Yerkie and embarked *in the 
British ship Empress of Russia^ much delighted to find 
ourselves in a vessel of good oak, regularly built, well 
fitted, and probably the only complete ship which till 
that time had appeared on the Caspian. It was no less 
a pleasure to see the English flag hoisted, and some 
satisfaction to receive those common marks of esteem 
which masters of ships usually pay their merchants 
when they have any guns.' Elton was now received 
into Nadir's service, and dignified with the Persian 
title of Jemdl Beg. He was given a considerable 
salary, and set to work to build, under infinite diffi- 
culties, a squadron of ships which was to turn the 
Caspian into a Persian lake. One of these vessels was 
completed, and carried twenty guns. 

But the ambitious project was not given time to 
succeed. The Russians had abandoned some years 
before, at Nadir's demand, all their conquests in 
Northern Persia. Now, alarmed by his preparations, 
and anxious for the security of their own frontier, 
they moved up troops, practically in support of the 
Lesghis, and naturally enough did all they could to 
thwart Elton. At the same time Nadir's old enemies 
the Turks, also fearing for their own safety, showed 
signs of an intention to cast their sword into the scale. 
Nadir, enraged as he was at his want of success, was 
too shrewd a soldier not to see that the position was 
hopeless. He withdrew his troops from the mountains 
to Persian territory, and abandoned for the moment at 
least all hope of crushing the Lesghis. 



It was the first real failure of his life, but it was 
complete. His troops fought their way back bravely- 
enough, but they were followed and harassed at every 
step by the exulting tribesmen ; and when they were 
encamped once more on the open plains, they had 
learned that even their mighty leader was not invin- 

It was the turning-point of Nadir's career. Like the 
great conqueror who devastated Europe half a century 
later, he had been foiled rather by the forces of nature 
than the prowess of his enemies, but he had * eaten 



Meanwhile, in the little Armenian village which had 
given her shelter, Sitara was passing away the long 
months, always hoping against hope that some good 
news would come to her. At first she had waited 
with impatience, expecting every day that some of 
the many couriers who rode through Tehran, bear- 
ing Nadir's orders to his outlying provinces, would 
bring her a letter from the Agha Bashi telling her 
all was well, and summoning her to return. But week 
after week and month after month passed by, and still 
no message came. 

She saw the crops round the village ripen and fall 
under the sickle. Then on the smooth earthen floors 
where the sheaves were spread, the oxen went round 
and round treading out the corn. The villagers tossed 
the grain into the air from their broad fans, and the 
chaff floated away on the southerly breeze. The fields 
all about were alive with grasshoppers, and in the 
sandy patches the sunken cones of the ant lions were 
to be found in countless numbers. The great purple 
balls of the Persian thistle rose from the ground. The 
nightingales and blackbirds ceased to sing. Soft young 
blue jays and hoopoes sat solemnly on the earthen 
walls, or flitted in and out of the trees. Overhead, 
flocks of bronze-winged bee-eaters fluttered and hung 
in the air, with their sweet, chuckling call. The 


patches of snow on the mountain above grew fewer 
and fewer. The stream which had been so full 
and strong died away with the melting of the snows 
until its voice was silent, and its boulders almost 

When the wind turned after sunset and came down 
from the mountains, and the swift night fell, the 
little *Hek Hek' owls called to one another with a 
pretty single note, but as summer wore on they too 
became silent. 

In September, the snow on the Tuchal was almost 
gone, only a couple of little V-shaped patches clinging 
to the eastern ravines. A few days more, and the first 
fresh snow fell on the summit of the range. There was 
rain below, and the air turned cold, and the poplars 
began to get yellow. 

The hawks came down at sunset from their hunting- 
places on the mountain-side, until at times many 
scores were wheeling in the air together. 

Soon the range was covered with snow half-way 
down, and the duck and snipe and woodcock came 
flying over at night, and the great cranes. The sky 
was cloudless, and the trees blazing with colour, green 
and yellow and red. 

And then the winter came, the beautiful winter 
of Tehran. Occasional heavy falls of snow nearly 
buried the village, drifting in piles in the courtyards 
of the houses ; but there were long weeks of delicious 
cloudless weather, with hard frost at night, and a bright 
warm sun, when the snow lay glittering like diamonds 
under the clear blue sky. 

It was dreary enough at times too, when the snow 
was gathering and the sky was grey, and all colour 
died out of hill and plain with the sunlight. Then 


Sitara, born and bred in India, shivered with cold and 
sat close by the charcoal brazier in the middle of the 
floor, or nestled into the quilted coverings which were 
spread over it. 

At last she received the message for which she had 
waited so many months. The morning had been fine, 
and Miriam had ridden away on her mule soon after 
sunrise to see her house in Tehran. Sitara had walked 
with her a little way, and then stopped and watched 
her riding on down the lonely hillside. There had 
been no snow for some time. The last fall had melted, 
and the air was cloudless. A patch of haze and smoke 
far below showed the place of the town, the top of a 
mosque or gateway shining out faintly here and there. 
Beyond lay the great plain, streaked with lines of 
wall and tree. Out of it rose some rocky ranges. 
One was deep blue, with a Guebr tower standing 
out white near its centre, the funeral tower of the 
ancient Persians, where the birds of the air devoured 
the dead. Other more distant ranges could be seen to 
the south and south-west. The furthest were white 
with snow. 

But as the day wore on, heavy clouds gathered on the 
Tuchal overhead. The sunlight faded, and the air grew 
chill. Then a cold sleety rain began to fall, and Sitara, 
looking from her window, became anxious lest Miriam 
should be caught by a snowstorm. A few flakes had 
fallen, and all looked unutterably dreary, when she 
heard the clatter of the mule's hoofs outside, and the 
Armenian dismounted. 

Sitara received her with pleasure, but her eyes were 

*What is it?' Sitara said. *Have you received any 
news ? ' 



*Yes,' she said. *I have received a letter from the 
camp, and the news is not good.' 

An Armenian servant had come from her husband, 
who was carrying out a contract for supplies, and 
could not leave the army. He wrote that the country 
all about had been exhausted, and supplies were 
difficult to obtain. The troops had suffered severely 
in the mountain fighting. The Persians were dis- 
contented and murmuring against the Shah, and even 
the Afghans and Tartars were disheartened. All said 
the Shah was strangely altered. In his former cam- 
paigns he had always prostrated himself in prayer 
before a fight, and given God thanks after every 
victory. Now he was fighting without prayer, like 
an infidel, loading them with reproaches if they failed, 
and inflicting upon them the fiercest punishments. 
Their superstitious fears were aroused, and they were 
weary of the campaign. The Armenian added on his 
own account that Nadir had returned to camp in a 
mood which terrified all about him. The Lesghian 
prisoners had been executed, and a great pyramid 
of heads had been erected near the camp. Even 
his most trusted officers were afraid to approach 
him. His anger fell upon all alike, and every day 
men were blinded or strangled for the smallest 

Finally, the Armenian wrote a few words about 
Sitara. He had seen the Agha Bashi, who had told 
him she must not think of returning to the camp. 
It would, in the Shah's present mood, be certain 
death to her and himself and the Catolicos. Please 
God, when the Lesghis had been subdued, things 
would go better and he might get a chance. Till 
then he dared not speak about her. He begged 


her, as she valued their lives, to remain in the 
closest hiding. If any of the Shah's spies got 
knowledge of her escape, it would be all over with 

Sitara listened in silence as Miriam read and trans- 
lated the letter, and her heart sank within her. She 
had been waiting month after month for a message, 
and this was the end. She was to wait indefinitely 
while the man she loved forgot her. She thought of 
the Shirazi, bright and triumphant in Nadir's favour. 
The thought tortured her, and for a moment she re- 
fused to accept her fate. She would go and risk all. 
Better die at once by Nadir's hand than face such a 

But she soon realised the impossibility of reaching 
the camp. No one would dare to help her, and a 
woman alone could not make her way for hundreds 
of miles across a country teeming with robbers and 
lawless soldiery. To write to Nadir, even if a letter 
would reach him, might be to throw away all chance. 
She must see him herself. Miriam's entreaties and her 
own good sense soon prevailed, and she gave up the 
hasty resolve. 

Through the winter months she remained in the 
village. Her first confidence was gone, and at times 
the waiting seemed more than she could bear, but she 
was young, and hope soon returned to her. Surely a 
few weeks or months at the outside would suffice for 
Nadir to beat down his insignificant enemy ; and when 
his wrath had been replaced by the joy of victory the 
Agha Bashi would find courage to speak. In the 
spring or early summer, when the roads were open, the 
summons would come, and her long suspense would be 
at an end. 


The winter passed away and the spring was upon 
them, but no summons came. 

The west wind, the Bad i Shahryar, drove away the 
clouds, and there were exquisite clear days when the 
sun was warm and the sky a deep blue. About the 
village, the soft earth came up in patches through the 
snow. Before February was over, the garden was full 
of violets which made the whole air sweet. In March, 
the weeping willows, always the first to come and 
the last to go, were waving in the wind their long 
streamers knotted with tiny leaves. A few round 
white buds appeared on a thorn-tree near the village 
gate. A faint green flush came over the stony plain. 
A blackbird began to sing. And still no summons 

The March winds were over, and the village gardens 
were green with foliage. Lilac and laburnum and 
white acacia one after another broke into blossom. 
In place of the violets, forget-me-nots and sweet 
white iris lined the sides of the rivulets. The bee- 
eaters shimmered in the sunlight, and the soft cry 
of the hoopoes was heard again, and the pink-breasted 
blue jays were nesting in the walls. The snows were 
melting fast on the Tuchal, and brown torrents poured 
from the mountain-sides, carving their course through 
the plain. Here and there was a vivid patch of 
emerald — the springing wheat. And still no summons 

April was gone. The garden was full of roses, 
and the nightingales were singing. The roads were 
lined with sweet-scented white may; and the little 
yellow 'Persian rose,' with its purple-brown centre, 
covered the stony plains. And still no summons 


And then Sitara learned that Nadir and his army 
had marched away into the Lesghian mountains 
again, and that another summer of waiting was 
before her. 



It was a long, hot summer, and Sitara often found the 
time hang heavy on her hands. She did what she could 
to help Miriam in her household work, and she became 
acquainted with one or two of the younger women in 
the village. But, kind as they were to her, she was a 
stranger among them, and she had little heart for 
making new friends. 

She was much alone. Day after day, when the heat 
was over, she would wander away by herself to some 
quiet spot, and sit for hours looking down upon the 
plains at her feet, watching the distant life from which 
she seemed to be for ever cut off. 

She saw the towers and mosques of the town shining 
dimly through the haze. Or her eyes followed the 
long lines of dust which showed where troops were 
marching westward along the road to Kasvin, perhaps 
to join the army on the frontier. She longed to be 
with them. Or a string of camels, laden with supplies 
for the town, would come slowly in to the Hamadan 
gate. It was all so silent, and so far away, that she 
seemed to be looking on from another world. 

Often enough she would sit till dark, brooding over 
her sorrow. But there were times when her youth and 
health asserted themselves, and a restless desire for 
movement came upon her. Then she would roam 
about round the village, never going very far, but ex- 


ploring the lonely hillside within a safe distance, and 
finding something to occupy her mind. She gathered 
bunches of wild flowers ; or watched the ants thread- 
ing their way between the cones of the ant lions in the 
sand ; or the field-mice playing in the stubble where the 
wheat had been ; or the sparrow-hawks quartering the 

Tehran and the villages and gardens around were 
supplied with water by * kenats,' underground channels, 
which brought it down for miles from some point in 
the flank of the mountains, where a wise man with his 
wand had detected its presence. When a kenat was 
being made, shafts were sunk at distances of thirty or 
forty yards to keep the channel straight, and to let the 
men in charge clear it of weeds and silt. The earth 
thrown up from each of these shafts by a rude windlass 
and bucket formed a circular mound about it. The 
sloping plain was seamed with lines of these mounds, 
looking like rows of flat-topped molehills ; and a small 
army of 'Mugannis,' water miners, was employed in 
keeping the kenats in repair. It was hard work, and 
dangerous at times, for the channels were narrow and 
rough, mere burrows in the gravelly soil, and some of 
the shafts were deep, three hundred feet and more. 

A line of kendt ran down past Verawa to a garden 
near Tehran, and the mound by one of the shafts was 
Sitara's favourite seat. It commanded a wide view to 
the southward, and as the sun sank she was generally 
to be found there, looking down upon the plains. 

During the long period of disorder from which 
Persia had suffered, many of the kendts had been 
deserted and fallen into disrepair. This was one of 
them. The mugannis in charge had left it. Hares 
and foxes had found shelter in the mounds, and the 



shafts had become a home for colonies of wild 

One evening Sitara had been sitting alone as usual, 
when she grew restless and weary of brooding. She 
got up and wandered listlessly along the line from 
shaft to shaft. 

By chance it occurred to her to look down one of 
them, where she had seen some pigeons settle. As she 
climbed over the little bank, most of the birds flew out 
with a great clatter of wings, but a few remained ; and 
she watched them sitting below her at the entrance to 
their nesting-places. 

As she stood looking down, she saw sticking out from 
one side of the shaft a stout wooden post, and below 
it another and another. They had apparently been 
put in with considerable labour, and seemed to form a 
rough ladder leading down to the water. They dis- 
appeared into the darkness, but Sitara knew that the 
stream was not more than twenty feet below the sur- 
face. Her curiosity was aroused, and a desire came 
upon her to see what the ladder meant. Ordinarily, 
the mugannis lowered each other with rope and 

She tried the first two posts, which were within 
reach of her. Both were solid and firm. Then care- 
fully, and with some trepidation, she lowered herself 
into the shaft. After the first few seconds she found 
that the descent was easy ; and within a minute or two 
she was at the bottom. Then she understood why the 
ladder had been made. 

The mugannis had dug out a little room, two or 
three feet above the level of the stream. It had 
evidently been occupied. Some light came down the 
shaft, and as her eyes became accustomed to the semi- 


darkness, she saw that several niches had been hol- 
lowed out of the wall, as in the mud walls of a Persian 
house. One had been used for a * chiragh,' or oil lamp ; 
the earthenware saucer was still there. In another 
was an old pack of playing-cards. The room had, no 
doubt, formed a cool retreat for the mugannis in the 
heat of summer, and a comfortable sleeping-place in 
winter, warmer than their little wind-blown tents on 
the ground above. The walls were in perfect preserva- 
tion, as if they had just been dug out. 

Sitara climbed back to the upper air, pleased with 
her adventure ; and that night Miriam rejoiced to hear 
her for the first time talking brightly, with real 
interest and enjoyment. They decided to keep the 
secret to themselves. ' Who knows ? ' Miriam said, 
with a laugh. 'Some day you may find it of real 

The next day Sitara went back to the shaft, taking 
with her a piece of stout rope, which she fastened to 
the top post of her ladder. Easy as the descent had 
been, she had gone down the first time with a beating 
heart, and in truth a slip might have been fatal, for if 
unable to climb back, she would hardly have been found. 
Many a life has been lost by a fall into one of these 
shafts. With the rope to hold by, she felt she would 
be safe. 

Often during the rest of the summer, the girl went 
down to her underground chamber, until the descent 
became as easy to her as going down an ordinary stair. 
In the worst of the heat the room was always cool, and 
the pure water of the stream was close by her. 

She made arrangements for lighting the room, and 
took down a piece of felt and some cushions, to make 
it comfortable. 




The entrance to the shaft was in a hollow between 
the two low sand-hills, which enabled her to come and 
go unseen, and none but Miriam ever knew where it 

Finally, Sitara decided to make use of the room in 
earnest. Hiding treasure in the ground is a common 
practice all over the East. Miriam had more than once 
spoken to Sitara about the box of gold and jewelry 
which the Agha Bashi had handed over to her. It was 
probably safe enough in the house at Verawa, but it 
was an anxiety to the Armenian, who disliked to see it 
lying unconcealed in Sitara's room. 

One day Sitara emptied it of almost all its contents, 
which she tied up in a handkerchief, and took away 
with her. The packet was small enough, and was easily 
concealed under her cloak. With a rough knife which 
she got in the village she dug out a hole in the floor of 
her hiding-place, and there deposited her treasures, 
carefully covering over the place, and stamping it down 
until the floor showed no sign of having been dis- 

When she came back she told Miriam what she had 




At the close of the summer Miriam's husband, Ovanes, 
returned from the camp. 

He was a fine old man, with white hair and a hand- 
some, kindly face. His manners were courteous and 
well bred. Sitara liked him from the first, and felt she 
could trust him. 

The news that he brought was not good. There had 
been fierce fighting in the Lesghian mountains, and 
serious losses. The troops were disheartened, and 
weary of a war which entailed constant exposure and 
hardship without apparent chance of a decisive victory. 
The Shah was imposing heavy taxes to meet the 
expenses of the campaign, and calling for fresh levies 
of recruits. There was discontent and murmuring 
in the camp, and in the country through which Ovanes 
had passed. 

But what to Sitara was worst of all, Ovanes told her 
that her return was out of the question. He spoke to 
her very gently, and touched as lightly as possible 
upon the change which had come over Nadir himself, 
but he made it clear to her that until the Lesghis were 
subdued the Agha Bashi could make no attempt to 
help her. She must trust him and have patience. 
Directly he saw a hope of speaking to Nadir without 
fatal consequences for all of them, he would speak. 
Till then she must wait. 


Sitara said to the Armenian what she had said from 
the beginning, that the whole thing had been a mistake ; 
that if the truth had been told at first, Nadir would 
have rejoiced to know of her being alive, and her long 
concealment would have been unnecessary. If she 
could see him again now, she knew he would receive 
her gladly, and forgive all concerned. But the old 
man shook his head. 

' You may be right, Khanum,' he said, * but the Agha 
Bashi and the Catolicos are of one mind. They say it 
would mean death to all. God knows I feel for you, 
and so do they, but it is impossible for you to go now. 
You must trust them and wait.' 

And with deep disappointment she resigned herself 
to the inevitable. 

O vanes went away again a few days later. In spite 
of all, his coming had done her good. The campaign, 
he said, must be over before long. In a few months 
the cold and snow must put an end to the fighting. 
The troops would be brought back to the plains, 
and during the winter the state of things might 
change altogether. In the spring, please God, she 
might be able to come. He left her with hope in her 

One thing he told her which gave her special comfort. 
The Shah, he said, had evidently begun to repent of 
his conduct towards Reza Khan, and had become 
incensed against all who had fomented the quarrel 
between them. It was said in the camp that Ali Akbar 
in particular had lost ground, and that the Shirdzi was 
altogether out of favour. 

In truth, if Sitara had only known, she need not have 
envied her rival at the moment. 

Nadir was in Derbend, concerting with the English- 


man Jemdl Beg measures for the building of his fleet ; 
and a force of his troops convoying some of his treasure 
and women, among them the Shir^zi, had marched to 
join Him. 

This force was surprised at night and fiercely- 
attacked by the mountaineers. The attack was so 
sudden and so impetuous that at first there was great 
confusion. Nadir's veterans soon rallied, and fighting 
steadily, drove off the tribesmen, but not until they 
had penetrated into the heart of the camp and carried 
off some of the treasure and several women. A day or 
two later the advancing troops found on their route a 
woman bound to a tree, on the trunk of which, above 
her head, was nailed an open letter in very bad 
Persian. It ran as follows : — 

* To the commander of the fe tefea a hBA troops of Ir^n. 

* Greetings. Inform your master, Nadir Kuli, the 
Turkoman robber, who has sworn to carry off our 
women, that we return one of his, who is bearded, and 
does not please us. The rest of them, and the treasure, 
we will keep until he comes to seek them. We hope 
he will come soon. It is also hoped that any other 
women whom he may provide for us will be more 
beautiful and less bad tempered.* 

The torrent of railing which burst from the Shirazi's 
lips when she found herself free but unveiled and 
dishevelled among the laughing Kizlbash, justified the 
taunts of the Lesghis. And the worst of it was that, in 
spite of his wrath, perhaps because of it. Nadir showed 
her little sympathy. The troops responsible for the 
surprise were punished with ruthless severity; but 
when that night Nadir came to the lady's tent he came 
with a smile on his face and words of bitter sarcasm. 


He condoled with her on her want of success with the 
mountaineers, and laughed at the fury which she could 
not conceal. When he left her she hated him worse 
than ever. 

Nor had her brother been much more fortunate. It 
was true that he seemed to have become more indi- 
spensable than ever, as Nadir had of late found much 
difficulty in raising money for the needs of the army. 
But his vanity and impulsive nature had carried him too 
far. The night before the Shirazi's arrival he had been 
dining with some companions, and under the influence 
of the golden Shiraz he had spoken unadvisedly. One 
of them had praised him to his face after the Persian 

' It is wonderful,' the man said. ' I swear by the beard 
of the Prophet that, except your Honour, there is no 
one who can meet the wants of the Shah. Twice in 
the last month you have made the Jew and Christian 
dogs find large sums. I swear by Allah there is no 
other like your Honour.' 

Ali Akbar's vanity was tickled. He had a way of 
abusing Nadir in private. 

* The Shah is a fool,' he said, * a pig-headed Turkoman 
fool. He can do nothing but fight, and even at that 
these ragged hill-men can beat him. As to governing 
the country, without us Persians he can do nothing.' 

* It is true. I swear by Ali that in comparison with 
your Honour he is nothing at all. Khak ast. He is 

* Listen,' Ali Akbar said ; ' I told him it was impossible 
to get another tumdn now, and the fool believed me. 
All the time I knew where I could get a hundred 
thousand tumdns. I shall not give it him, but it is 
there. I could find it to-morrow if I chose.' 


* It is wonderful/ 

* Yes. I have it in my hand,' and Ali Akbar sat back 
on his cushions and laughed his jovial laugh. 

He had forgotten the verse of the holy book, ' Curse 
not the King, no, not in thy thoughts, for a bird of the 
air shall carry the voice.' 

Next day Nadir sent for him. When he presented 
himself he found his master alone. 

*The Shah sent for me?' Ali Akbar said, with his 
hand on his breast. 

*Yes. I want more money to pay the troops. I 
must have a hundred thousand tumans at once.' 

* A hundred thousand tumans ! Where is this slave 
to get such a sum ? Only last week I sent for all the 
money-lenders and squeezed them dry for the Shah's 
service. I swear by God and his Prophet that I took 
the last tum^n from them. They went away weeping. 
I had even to tie the Tajir Bashi, the Head Merchant, 
to the felek before he would find a gold piece. He had 
to sell his women's jewels to raise the sum the Shah 
wanted. I swear they cannot find any more for 

Nadir knew it was all a lie. Ali Akbar was not 
cruel. He had never in his life had a man tortured. 
But Nadir pretended to believe it. 

* So,' he said with a stern face, ' you commit oppres- 
sion on these poor subjects of mine, and order the felek 
as if you were a king.' 

He made a sign and Ali Akbar was seized by the 
Nasakchis. There was always a felek outside Nadir's 
tent, and in a few seconds the great minister, in spite 
of his tears and efitreaties, was lying on his face 
with his feet tied up to the bar, soles in air. He 
continued to scream out prayers and promises as 



the long canes came whistling down, but Nadir looked 
on with a grim smile until his cries and his writhings 
ceased. When his feet had been beaten into a shape- 
less mass, and he had fainted with the pain, he was 

After lying on the ground for a few minutes he 
recovered consciousness. His turban had fallen off, 
showing his shaven head, and his face and beard were 
covered with dirt. Nadir was standing by, leaning on 
the handle of his axe, laughing gently. 

•Well, your majesty,' Nadir said, *will you send 
innocent men to the felek any more? Go away now 
and come back at sunset with a hundred thousand 
tumans, or you will eat sticks again.' 

Ali Akbar moaned out a few words of protest and 

' Tie him up again,' Nadir said. 

* No, no ! Az barae khuda, for God's sake ! I will do 
all I can. Mercy, mercy ! I will find the money.' 

* I thought so. You Persians are very clever, not 
like Turkoman fools who can do nothing but fight. 
Without you Persians I could do nothing. Praise be 
to God, that I have got some of you.' 

Nadir went back into his tent, and Ali Akbar was 
carried away to his own quarters, moaning and 
cursing. When his wounded feet had been dressed 
and wrapped in fresh lambskins, he had to set about 
raising the sum required. The money-lenders were 
summoned. There was about the man a charm which 
even money-lenders found it hard to resist. Coward 
as he was in the face of danger, he bore pain well and 

•Welcome,' he said, with a laugh and a twitching 
face. • Forgive me for remaining seated. The Shab, 


who is always kind to his servants, thinks I need a 
little rest, and has forbidden me to stand up just now.' 
He laughed again in his half-shy, fascinating way, a 
slight flush in his cheeks. 

Every one knew of his disgrace, which was nothing 
strange for Nadir's highest officials, and there was no 
use in trying to be dignified. 

The money-lenders were sorry for him, and admired 
his courage. At first they said it was impossible to get 
a tuman; but by dint of coaxing and promises and 
oaths on the Koran, mingled with jests at his own 
expense, Ali Akbar got his way in the end, as he 
generally did. Before sunset he limped into Nadir's 
presence and handed over the money. 

Nadir kept him standing in agony while the gold 
pieces were counted. When the counting was over, 
and Ali Akbar's white face showed that he could not 
bear much more. Nadir let him go. 

* Af rin ! ' Nadir said. ' The Persians are very clever. 
I thank God that I have such a servant as you. Go in 
peace. I will send my Hakim to attend you. May 
your sleep be good.' 

Ali Akbar returned to his quarters, and before mid- 
night his sister came over to see him. Nadir had just 
left her, and she was boiling with fury at his taunts. 
She found Ali Akbar lying on his cushions, with his 
feet swathed in his lambskins, and a flask of Shiraz 
by his side. He had drunk a fair allowance of wine 
already, and for the moment was feeling more com- 
fortable. After a few perfunctory words of sympathy 
the Shirdzi turned to her own grievances, and told 
him, with many curses upon Nadir and the Lesghis, 
of all the indignities she had suffered. Ali Akbar 
condoled with her, and joined heartily in her remarks 


upon Nadir ; but running through all his condolences 
was a certain vein of amusement. 

*He is a dog and the son of a dog,' Ali Akbar 
said in a low voice, with a look round to see that 
they were safe, 'but after all it is over, and they 
have done you no great harm. Why eat any more 
grief about it? We will burn his father some 
day. Meanwhile take a cup of wine and forget it all. 

'Forget it!' she said. 'May Shaitan seize you and 
your wine cups. Have you no shame that you drink 
wine in Ramazan ? And is it nothing to you that my 
face has been blackened in the sight of the whole 
camp ? All the " luti putis," the riff-raff, in the bazaar 
are singing songs about it.' 

Ali Akbar laughed. ' Ramazan ! Those who serve 
the Shah night and day as I do cannot fast. The 
mullas have absolved me. And has my face not 
been blackened too ? By all the Imams, I am black 
from the soles of my feet to the crown of my 
head. If I can bear my troubles surely you can bear 
yours ? ' 

His tone enraged her. ' Your troubles ! ' she said 
contemptuously. 'A few strokes of the stick, which 
all you clumsy fools get sooner or later. What is that 
to talk about ? It was your own fault. Another time, 
" If you cannot endure the sting, do not put your hand 
on the scorpion's hole." ' 

Ali Akbar sighed. * I was a fool,' he said, ' a fool to 
trust any one, and a fool from the beginning to take 
service with the Shah. I swear I will give it up and be 
a dervish.' 

The Shir^zi sprang to her feet with flashing eyes. 
'Then be a dervish. God knows it is all you are fit 


for. If I were a man no Shah on earth would give me 
the f elek and live.' 

She flung aside the curtain and walked out. 

* Wouf ! ' he said, * she is like a wild cat. I will be a 
dervish, I swear it. And meanwhile ' 

He filled himself a cup of Shiraz and tossed it off. 
*Shukrullah. Thanks be to God. There are good 
things in this perishable world.' 



Although the reports of defeat and disaffection 
which reached Tehran were exaggerated, and many 
of them false, there was yet too much truth in them. 

The fact was that like other conquerors Nadir had 
been lured by ambition to push his conquests too far. 
He had, it is true, wisely refrained from adding India 
and Bokhara and Khiva to his territories, but even so 
his empire was greater than his resources. It is one 
thing to conquer, and another thing to hold. As it 
was, his dominions stretched from the Tigris to the 
Indus, from the Caucasus to the Arabian Sea. In 
those days of slow communication a large standing 
army was needed to hold together such a tract of 
country, inhabited by many turbulent nationalities; 
and for the expenses of such an army he required a 
great revenue. He did not possess it, for in the main 
his empire was poor. 

The wear and tear of thirteen years of incessant 
war had caused a drain of men and money. Re- 
cruits were becoming harder to get, and his richest 
provinces were being impoverished. Some thousands 
of hardy Tartars and Afghans still flocked yearly to 
his standards, and he had in reserve the treasure 
plundered from the Moghul Emperor. But the supply 
of men barely filled up the gaps in his ranks caused 
by wounds and disease, and he shrank from drawing 


upon his hoards. His demands for recruits became 
more and more urgent, and heavy taxes were imposed. 
And as the pressure grew more severe the mutterings 
of discontent began to be heard. *It is we,' the 
Persians said, * who won him his throne, and now he 
oppresses us with an army of Tartars and Afghans.* 

Even his army was weary of war. Officers and men 
were becoming worn out with constant fighting, and 
more and more reluctant to engage in fresh expedi- 
tions. They wanted to rest for a while, and to enjoy 
the plunder they had gathered. At the first touch of 
serious defeat they began to murmur, and to curse 
under their breath the man who had hitherto led them 
from victory to victory. 

A change seemed to have come over Nadir himself. 
He was losing to some extent the old care and patience 
to which his wonderful successes had been largely due, 
and beginning to trust too much in the fear of his 
name. He was more rash in attack. Nor was this all. 
When he was only Nadir the General he had been even 
greater in defeat than in victory. His veterans re- 
membered that when his army had been crushed by 
the Turks ten years before, he had borne his appar- 
ently irreparable defeat with patience and cheer- 
fulness. He had lavished upon them praises and 
rewards instead of reproaches, and had risen from his 
fall stronger than ever. Now he seemed incapable of 
enduring the smallest opposition. Defeat enraged him 
to the verge of madness, and made him urge them on 
to attempt things which they knew to be impossible. 
And if they failed he loaded them with taunts and 
curses, or inflicted upon them the most savage punish- 
ments. In a hopeless attempt to storm one of the 
Lesghian peaks, a soldier had seen that Nadir himself 


was in great danger from the fire of the enemy, and 
had covered the Shah with his body. Nadir had turned 
on him with a furious oath. * Do you dare to take me 
for a coward?' he had cried, and the man had been 
strangled on the spot. 

Those about Nadir's person felt that he was no 
longer the same man. At times he seemed like the 
Nadir of old days. At times he was sunk in apathy and 
gloom, from which he would suddenly wake to bursts of 
ungoverned rage. His old sense of humour seemed to 
be leaving him. At times, too, he was ill. He had 
suffered when in India from the beginning of a 
dropsical complaint of which the Hakim Alavi had 
cured him. Since the Hakim's departure the com- 
plaint had returned upon him, and made him doubly 
fierce and irritable. The Agha Bashi and Ahmed 
Khan, and others who were really true to him, watched 
the change with sorrow and alarm. 

He had become more suspicious too. Since the 
attempt on his life he had seemed to trust hardly any 
one. His most faithful servants had begun to be afraid 
of him, and to shun being seen together. One of his 
generals, looking up by chance in Durbar to find 
Nadir's eyes fixed upon him, had left the camp during 
the night and fled to the Turkish border. 

It was said, and with truth, that the fate of his son 
was preying upon his mind ; and that remorse and 
misery had done more to bring about the change in 
his character than all his defeats and sufferings. 

Matters were in this state when Nadir abandoned his 
Lesghian expedition, and returned to his headquarters 
in Persian territory. The winter was over, and ho 
intended to make a great effort to recover his strength 
in order to meet the coming trouble with Turkey. 


His first step was to levy an extraordinary con- 
tribution on this account. The demand was exorbi- 
tant, and his tax-gatherers pressed it with such merci- 
less cruelty, that the Persians, already suffering from 
over-taxation, were driven to despair. Traders and 
cultivators alike began to desert their homes, and 
take refuge in other countries. Great tracts of 
land fell out of cultivation, and his revenues dried 
up at their source. It was the beginning of the 

The end was not yet, for with infinite exertion Nadir 
succeeded during the spring in gathering together a 
great army for the invasion of the Turkish provinces ; 
and when in June the horse-tail standards were hung 
out from the palace at Constantinople, as a signal for 
war, the Persian army crossed the border. 

The troops had rested from the fatigue of the 
Lesghian campaign ; their ranks were swollen by fresh 
contingents; and Nadir held before their eyes the 
prospect of plundering Bagdad, and wintering on the 
Golden Horn. He hoped to dazzle the world by the 
splendour of fresh victories, and to wipe out from his 
banners the stain of the Lesghian failure. 

He was in fact victorious, but not so easily nor so 
decisively as in the former war. He had taught his 
enemies to fight. He found that the Turks opposed 
him with a stubbornness and skill which they had not 
shown before. His victories were hardly won. 

And such as they were they came too late. The news 
of the defeats in the Lesghian mountains, exaggerated 
by rumour, had spread all over the empire; and 
before he could make them forgotten by news of 
fresh triumphs, he learned that his own dominions 
were in a flame of revolt behind him. The belief 


that he was no longer invincible, coupled with the 
suffering inflicted by his exactions, had fired the 

Far away to the south, his fleet was beaten in the 
waters of the Persian Gulf, and a force of his troops 
was destroyed at Muscat. 

Then a large colony of Bakhtiari tribesmen, whom 
he had transplanted from the centre to the north-east 
of Persia, broke away from their allegiance. They 
had pined in exile for the cool, sweet air of their 
mountains, for their oak forests, and the breezy up- 
lands where their flocks used to graze by the deep blue 
waters of the Karun. They marched back to their 
homes and set the Shah at defiance. 

To the eastward the Beluchis, in their sun-beaten 
deserts, refused to supply any more recruits, and pour- 
ing out from their miserable villages, defeated a body 
of troops sent to coerce them. 

From Ispahan, the very centre of Persia, the old 
capital of the dynasty he had supplanted, news came 
that the people of the neighbouring districts were 
resisting his tax-collectors, or migrating in thousands 
to India and Turkey. 

In the great southern city of Shiraz one of his ablest 
and most trusted lieutenants, Taki Khan, raised a force 
and declared against him. 

In the north, near the Caspian, the Kajars revolted 
at Astrabad, and were joined by the nomad Turko- 
mans. And the Lesghians, incited by the Turks, set 
up a Pretender, and invaded the Persian provinces near 
the Caucasus. 

All Persia seemed to have blazed into insurrection at 
once, and Nadir felt that until he had stamped out the 
flame he must desist from his campaign against the 


Turks. He recrossed the border, and established his 
camp in a central position at Hamaddn, whence he 
could strike in all directions, and at the same time 
watch the Ottoman armies. 

His vengeance upon the rebels was swift and terrible. 
Disregarding for a time the more distant of them, he 
turned fiercely upon those within his reach. His troops, 
discontented as they were, and weary of perpetual 
warfare, were yet proud of themselves, and incensed 
against those who had forced upon them fresh marches 
and fresh exertions. They fell upon the rebels with 
a trained orderly rage, against which no undisciplined 
levies, whatever their numbers, could hope to stand. 
The Kajars and Turkomans were scattered like chaff. 
Thousands of them were slain or blinded, and great 
pyramids of heads were set up as a warning for the 
future. The Lesghians, venturing away from their 
native mountains, were broken and dispersed with 
heavy loss, and there also the ghastly pyramids rose 
from the blood-stained ground. Taki Khan was beaten 
and captured. Persians still talk of his fate. One of 
his eyes was put out, his wives were given over to the 
soldiery, and he suffered the last indignity that could 
be inflicted upon a man. The miserable Ispahanis were 
crushed to the earth with a double burden of taxes, 
so that all seditious spirit should be broken among 

The flame of revolt had been stamped out. The 
ashes were smouldering still, but for the present they 
were not dangerous; and Nadir, free from appre- 
hension for the country behind him, turned again to 
face the Turks. 

Fro fit Hanways ' Travels' 



Nearly three years had passed over Sitara's head 
since the day when Nadir struck her down. With the 
infinite patience and fidelity of her race she waited 
still, hoping always that some day the man whose love 
was her life might once more summon her to his side ; 
and when she heard that he was again within a few 
days' journey from Verawa, the longing to risk all and 
return to him came upon her with redoubled force. 
With all her gratitude and liking for the Agha Bashi, 
she rebelled more hotly than ever against the inaction 
to which she was condemned. He seemed to have 
forgotten her; his messages came more and more 
rarely, and for months she had not had a word from 
him. Was her whole life to be sacrificed to the fear of 
doing him harm ? 

She had always believed that the concealment of her 
escape from death at Nadir's hands had been a grievous 
mistake, and as the long years went by, the conviction 
had become stronger and stronger. 

Her instinct had not failed her. She knew Nadir 
better than any one knew him, and her woman's heart 
had told her the truth. 

But her woman's heart told her also that three 
years were a long time for a man to remain faithful 
to her memory. Must she be silent still and let him 
forget her ? 


One beautiful evening in spring she was sitting with 
Miriam at her favourite spot, looking down upon the 
plains, and westward to where Nadir s camp was said 
to be. The air was exquisitely clear, with the crystal- 
line clearness of Central Asia. She could see, miles 
away in the plain below, a long line of camels marching 
along the Hamadan road, and she pointed them out to 

' It is little more than a week's march to the camp,' 
she said. * Oh ! if I could go with the kafila. You have 
been very good to me, and God knows I am grateful. 
What should I have done without you ? But it mad- 
dens me to think he is so near and that I cannot go to 

The Armenian took the hand that rested on the earth 
beside her. 

* Patience,' she said; *you have borne it bravely so 
long. Be patient a little longer. All will come right 
in time.' 

'I do try to be patient, but sometimes I cannot. 
They say the snowy range over there is beyond the 
camp. It is so near, between Hamaddn and Kasvin. 
And I know the Agha Bashi was wrong. The Shah 
never meant to hurt me. If he saw me he would 
forgive everything and be glad. The Agha Bashi would 
not be punished. Oh ! I cannot wait any longer. I 
cannot. I must go.' 

Miriam was silent for a few moments. She half 
believed that Sitara was right, but the messages from 
the camp, though few of late, had been as decided as 

*Khdnum, wait a little longer. You know what 
they say about the Shah, how angry he is over all 
these rebellions. Wait till things are going better. 


You are a Christian now, and you say the Book has 
helped you. Have faith. In God's time your prayers 
will be answered.' 

*I know I am faithless. The Book has helped me. 
I think I should have gone mad without it. But 
I cannot wait and do nothing. He is forgetting 
me, perhaps learning to love others as he loved me. 
Alas, alas, that I never bore him a son! It is more 
than I can endure. For God's sake, help me.' 

Miriam had taken to her home an Armenian girl, 
little more than a baby, whose mother had died in 
giving her birth. Her father had afterwards been 
killed by one of the Kizlbash for resisting some extor- 
tion. The child had attached herself to Sitara, and had 
become her special charge. 

* I thought,' Miriam said, * that the child had brought 
you comfort, and that you were happier. What will 
she do without you ? ' 

* Poor baby. She has been a great happiness, almost 
as if she had been my own. But she would not miss 
me long. And my duty is to the Shah. If he is angry 
and sore at the ingratitude of the Persians, what 
wonder is it ? ' 

* Khanum, they have had much to bear of late.' 

'I know, but think of all the Shah has done for 
them. You say they abuse him and curse him now, 
and it maddens me to hear it. I used to be able to 
help him when there was trouble. Perhaps I could 
help him now. I believe the Book would say I ought 
to go. Let us open it and take a verse and see what it 
says. If it says I should go, you will help me ? ' 

* Khanum, we must not do those things. The Book 
is not Hafiz or the Koran, and we are not Mussulmans. 
Listen. I will write and send a special messenger, 



Promise me you will wait for an answer. It will come 
in two or three weeks.' 

Two or three weeks! To her that day, in her 
impatience, with the spring working through all her 
young blood, it seemed like asking her to wait two or 
three years. 

*You will write strongly?* she said. *You will tell 
them I cannot bear it any longer — that it is killing 

* You shall see what I write. I will say anything you 
please. But without leave and an escort you must not 
go. I promised my husband and the Catolicos. And 
you would not be safe. You would fall into the hands 
of the Kizlbash, and God knows what would happen to 
you. Think how they have treated others.' 

Sitara shuddered. ' I will wait,' she said. * But come 
and write the letter.' 

The letter was sent off, and as the time for a possible 
answer came, Sitara grew so restless that she could not 
remain indoors. Every day she sat for hours on the 
lookout, watching the road from the city below. Two 
weeks passed, and three, and four. The sweet white 
iris faded and dropped, and the lilac and the may. The 
roses came and the nightingales. The rounded head of 
the Tuchal showed more green than white, and in the 
daytime the heat haze gathered over the plain. But 
still there was no answer. 

One evening Sitara had been sitting at her post idly 
counting the snow patches on the mountain. There 
were just a score of small streaks. One had gone since 
the day before. The child was sitting on the ground 
by her side close by. An ant lion had sunk its little 
cone in the sandy soil under a blade of grass. An ant 
climbed upon the blade and the child shook it off. The 


poor little creature made a desperate effort to get up 
the side of the hole, but its enemy flicked a shower of 
sand over it, and brought it struggling down to the 
bottom, where it was seized and dragged under. The 
child shrieked with glee, and Sitara turned to see what 
the matter was. With her Hindu feeling for animals 
she was vexed, and protested vigorously, and the child 

Suddenly she called out, ' Khanum, look, a horseman 
coming up the road.' 

Sitara watched the man as he rode slowly up along 
the stony track. At last ! It was Miriam's messenger, 
dusty and worn with days of riding. 

* You have come from the camp ? ' 

' Yes, Khanum. I have ridden straight here.' 

* You have brought a letter ? ' 
' Yes, Khanum.' 

He saluted and rode on. Sitara waited impatiently 
for a few minutes, until she thought Miriam had read 
her letter, and then followed. Her first look at 
Miriam's face was enough. There were tears in the 
older woman's eyes. 

* It is bad news ? ' 

'Khanum, I am grieved for you. My husband says 
you cannot go. The Shah has marched by this time 
across the Turkish border, and he is more angry than 
ever. No one dares to speak to him. You must wait.' 

Sitara dropped on her knees by the window-sill and 
covered her face with her hands. The child stood 
watching her for a minute, and then came and tried 
to pull them away. Sitara kissed her and got up. 

*Do not grieve for me,' she said to Miriam, with a 
brave attempt at a smile. ' Sooner or later God will 
hear me, and the summons will come.' 



The Armenian's news was true. Relieved for the time 
by the suppression of some of the revolts in Persia, 
Nadir had determined to try his fortune once more 
against the Turks. 

For months he had toiled unceasingly to bring his 
army into a state of numbers and efficiency which 
would enable him to move and strike a heavy blow. 
From early morning till noon he sat in his Diwan 
Khaneh, the front of it open in all weathers, inquiring 
into every detail, and issuing orders. Often he was 
there again till late at night. His apathy seemed 
to have gone, and his application to business amazed 
all about him. 

Nadir had need of all his powers. The country in 
his rear had become a waste. Depopulated villages 
and untilled fields attested the crushing nature of his 
exactions. The incessant fatigue of long marches, and 
the rigour of the seasons, had ruined the Persian 
cavalry. Nadir's own horses had suffered in common 
with the rest. His officers and many of the men 
had their arms and accoutrements ornamented with 
gold and silver, and their pay was extraordinarily 
liberal, but they were weary of war ; and the recruits 
who were being brought in were of an inferior stamp. 
Nadir held out to all the prospect of immense rewards 
when his standards should be planted on the walls of 


Constantinople. Gradually, by dint of untiring exer- 
tions, the army was brought into order ; and though 
the quality of the troops was no longer what it had 
been, yet the force made a fine show, and in the 
hands of a great master of the art of war it was a 
formidable weapon. Harassed as he was, and sur- 
rounded with difficulties. Nadir was still a foe to be 
dreaded. The Turks knew it and made all possible 
preparations to meet him. 

In the summer the great standards of red and yellow 
were struck, and the Persian army crossed the border. 
It had some success. The Turks were forced back- 
wards, and shut up in Kars, and the famous fortress 
was soon invested by Nadir in person. But it did not 
fall. The Turks, always an obstinate enemy, defended 
their crumbling walls with desperate valour, and the 
besieging force began to suffer from want of supplies. 
The winter was approaching, and Nadir, though he 
was, as some one said of him, *guerrier de toutes les 
saisons,' could not afford to let his last army face its 
rigours in the open field. Sullenly he raised the siege, 
and marched back to the warmer and more fertile 
country near the Persian border. There he once 
more rested his troops and prepared for another 

The Turks redoubled their efforts. Their Asiatic 
forces were supported by contingents from Servia and 
Bosnia and Roumania ; and when in the spring Nadir 
again set his troops in motion, a vast army was 
gathered in his front. 

His heart was heavy as he gave the order for the 
standards to be struck, and once more crossed the 
border. He felt that the day for easy and decisive 
victories was over. The Turks were stronger than 


ever before, and his army was not what it had been. 
But for the terror of his name his enemies would 
have driven it before them. He could no longer hope 
to annihilate them, and sweep across an unresisting 
country to the shores of the Bosphorus. Worse than 
all, he was growing old. In his winter-quarters he had 
suffered from illness, and at times a dreadful lethargy 
settled upon him. His day was over, and he knew it. 
Never again would he march triumphantly into an 
enemy's capital, and make all the world ring with his 
name. But, hopeless as he was, the old spirit blazed 
up once more as he rode away to the last of his 
great fields. He would yet strike one resounding 
blow, and show that he was still the Nadir men had 

Alas! a few days' march sufficed to bring on 
another attack of his malady, and as he entered the 
Georgian uplands he was borne in a litter, faint and 
in pain. 

The Turks came forward to meet him, and the news 
of their approach stirred his blood like a trumpet-call. 
Once more the Kizlbash saw him in the saddle, fierce 
and impetuous as ever, and once more they pressed 
forward, sure of victory. 

The Turks met them boldly, and the issue was long 
in doubt. Nadir was forced to throw into the fight 
even his last reserve, the priceless veterans of the Six 
Thousand, and to lead them himself, battle-axe in 
hand. Two horses were killed under him. But his 
skill and the terror of his name prevailed in the end. A 
last gleam of glory shone upon his banners, and the 
relics of the Ottoman host, broken and panic-stricken, 
sought shelter again within the walls of Kars. 

He had conquered, and Turk and Russian alike were 


awed by his greatness, as he stood, defiant and 
terrible still, on the threshold of their dominions. 

But Nadir was not deceived. He knew that behind 
him lay a country wasted with years of warfare and 
seething with revolt. If he were to suffer one defeat 
he would be irretrievably ruined. The army under his 
banners was the last he could hope to raise, and even 
that he could hardly maintain. But for his Indian 
treasure he could not have held it together. There 
was nothing for him but to make peace while he 
could, while his enemies still feared him, and then to 
quench once for all the spirit of revolt in his own 

Fierce with illness and remorse and disappointed 
ambition, he vowed an awful revenge upon his own 
people, upon the hated Persians who had ruined his 
schemes of conquest, and set bounds to his great 

He offered peace to the beaten Turks, and marched 
his army back to Persian soil. Soon afterwards he 
was once more in the ancient capital of Ispahan. 

Then there came to Verawa fearful tales of the 
torments he was inflicting upon all around him. 

' From an incessant fatigue and labour of mind,' to 
use the words of a contemporary writer, 'attended 
with some infirmities of body, he had contracted . . . 
a diabolical fierceness, with a total insensibility of 
human sufferings.' 

Upon the wretched Ispahanis especially he poured 
the vials of his wrath. To replenish his exhausted 
treasury, and to punish those who were disloyal or 
suspected, he had recourse to dreadful tortures. His 
ministers and generals were flogged or blinded or 
slain, until even those who would have been true to 


him were driven by terror into the ranks of his enemies. 
The frenzy of rage and cruelty which had seized upon 
Nadir's mind increased day by day, and at last he 
seemed to be, in truth, a madman. The hero who had 
once been loved and worshipped as a god was hated 
and feared like an incarnate devil. 



It was a beautiful afternoon in November. For some 
days tbere had been heavy clouds and snow upon 
the mountains; but the west wind had swept the 
clouds away, and then dropped, leaving the air clear 
and still. The great cone of Demavend was white all 
over, and along the range the snows lay in dazzling 
purity under a deep blue sky. 

Sitara took the child with her and walked out to her 
favourite seat. How well she knew every detail of 
the landscape before her. Year after year she had sat 
there gazing out over the plains. It was a wonderful 
picture. Some of the trees still showed traces of green, 
but most had taken their autumn colouring. Here 
and there on the grey of the stony plain was a walled 
garden, in which the yellow of the mulberries and 
poplars mingled with the deep red of the chinars. 
Beyond them were the blue hill ranges, and above 
them the cloudless sky, the whole a blaze of intensely 
vivid colour in the clear dry air. 

The sun went down, and the warm light on the snowy 
range died slowly away, until Demavend alone stood 
out, rose crowned. Then the glory faded on Demavend, 
and the long line of peaks lay cold and white against a 
steel blue sky. 

Then came the afterglow, and from a point to the 
eastward, just clear of the great white cone, there 


shot into the sky long bars of rose and blue, which 
broadened overhead and lost themselves in the west, 
above the sunken sun. 

Sitara was watching in silence when the child, who 
was sitting on her lap, pointed to the slope below. 

' Look, Khanum,' she said. * What are they doing ? ' 

Sitara's eyes followed the child's finger. A troop 
of horsemen was advancing at a gallop across the 
open ground. They were a mile or two away, but 
she could see them clearly. One seemed to be riding 
alone some distance ahead, with the rest in pursuit. 
Here and there she caught a faint glimmer of steel. 
Some puffs of smoke broke from the galloping line, 
and the sound of distant shots came up the long 

At first Sitara thought nothing of it. More than 
once she had watched the Persian horsemen gallop- 
ing and wheeling on the stony plain, firing from the 
saddle after the Persian fashion at some mark on 
the ground. But they rarely came so far up towards 
the barren hillsides, and this time it did not look 
like play. There was no wheeling or pause. The 
whole troop was coming on together, evidently at 
full speed. They were heading straight for the 

Sitara rose to her feet. The gateway was a couple 
of hundred yards away, and she had not much more 
than time to reach it. Something might be wrong, 
and though there was always a watchman on the 
corner turret of the village wall, it would be well to 
give warning and get into shelter. She took the child's 
hand in hers, and ran towards the village. 

As they got to the gateway, she saw that the alarm 
had been given. Several men were running up to 

C/3 ^ 

PL. K^ 

I ^ 



the parapet with weapons in their hands. Others 
were closing the heavy iron-bound leaves of the 
gate. They called out to Sitara to be quick, and 
as she passed in with the child the gateway closed 
behind her, and the massive wooden bars dropped into 
their sockets. 

She went into her own house, and ran up the steep 
brick stairs to the roof. From the roof a wooden 
bridge led to the top of the village wall. In another 
moment she was standing by the parapet looking 
over. As she reached it, she saw, two or three hundred 
yards off, a single horseman riding straight for the 
gateway. He was waving his arm to the villagers 
and calling for help. Behind him came the troop she 
had seen below. Their long gallop had tried the quality 
of their horses. A few were within musket-shot of the 
man they were pursuing, the rest were strung out 
along the stony track. But all were pressing furiously 

Sitara bent over the parapet. She heard shouts of 
warning and encouragement from the Armenians, and 
saw the first horseman look over his shoulder with a 
face of terror. The next instant he had sprung from 
his horse and dived through a small postern door in 
the side of the gateway. 

There w^as a yell of rage from the riders behind him, 
but he was safe, and as they came up to the village they 
reined in their horses. 

Sitara had been too long with the camp not to 
recognise them. From their long spears and loose half- 
Arab head-dress she knew they were Kurds, perhaps 
the wildest savages among all Nadir's soldiery. Be- 
tween them and the Armenians of the western border 
there was a long-standing feud. When they saw that 


their prey had escaped them and that the gateway was 
securely held, they brandished their lances and shouted 
out curses and threats. 

Then Sitara saw one of them, who seemed to be 
the leader, ride backwards and forwards among them, 
giving orders. She could not hear what he said, but 
he pointed to the rear with a drawn sword which 
he held in his hand, and gradually the troop 
turned and retired out of musket-shot, leaving him 
alone. He was a fine-looking man, tall and power- 
ful, with a fierce, dare-devil look which became him 

When his troop had retired, he turned to the men 
on the wall above the gateway. 

*What village is this?' he said, 'and who are 
you that shut your gates in the face of the Shah's 
servants ? ' 

The head-man of the village answered, respectfully 
enough, but firmly : 

*The name of the village is Verawa, and we are 
peaceful cultivators. In these times we keep our 
gates shut against all armed men whom we do not 

* You know well enough that we belong to the Shah's 
army. Now in the name of the Shah I call upon you 
to open your gates, and let my men come in. They 
have made a long march to-day and want food and a 
night's rest.' 

There was a laugh among the younger men at the 
Kurd leader's effrontery, but the head-man checked 

* Have you a firmdn from the Shah ? ' he said. ' With- 
out that we cannot open.' 

The Kurd's eyes flashed. 


* Dog of an Isavi,' he said fiercely. * Once for all, will 
you obey my order, or shall I report you to the Shah ? 
You know what mercy he has for rebels.' 

His words were received with an angry murmur. 
' Robber. Murderer. Worshipper of the Devil.' More 
than one musket-barrel was laid on the parapet. The 
Kurd faced them with a glance of haughty contempt, 
and Sitara could not help admiring his courage. The 
head-man answered quietly : 

*We are not rebels, but we cannot open our gates 
without a written order from the Shah. As to food 
and rest, the town is not far away, and we are 

The Kurd raised his sword in the air. 

*Then listen, you accursed infidels. I will go now 
and report how we were received when we asked for 
shelter in the Shah's name. When I return I will show 
you how the Shah treats rebels. Before a month has 
passed every man among you will have become food for 
the village dogs, and your maidens will be in the tents 
of my horsemen.' 

A shout of anger answered him, but he sat motionless 
on his horse till it died away, then spat on the ground 
and turned his back on the gleaming musket-barrels. 
He rode slowly to his men, and the whole troop filed 
away towards the plain. 

The villagers watched them from the wall until the 
swift eastern darkness came down and hid them from 
sight among the stony sand-hills. 

That night, after the evening meal was over and 
the child had been put to sleep, Sitara sat for som.e 
time alone. Miriam had gone away to Tehran for a 
day or two, and there was no one in the house but 
the servants. Sitara's thoughts naturally went back 


to the scene at the gateway, and a vague uneasiness 
came over her. The threats of the Kurd had been 
so fierce and so confident that she could not altogether 
dismiss them from her mind. He was only boasting, 
she said to herself, angry at his defeat and trying to 
frighten them; but there was something about him 
which made her anxious. The Armenian who had 
had that desperate ride for his life reported that 
the Kurds were evidently bent on mischief of some 
kind. He had ridden up from the town by a short 
cut through the sand-hills, and had come in to the 
regular track ahead of them. They were marching 
towards the mountains, and the track practically led 
nowhere except to the village. He had seen them 
first, and had broken into a canter, meaning to keep 
at a safe distance, but they had at once shouted to 
him, and as he rode on, had fired a shot. He had 
heard the bullet whistle over his head. Then they 
had broken into a gallop and hunted him like a hare 
to the gateway. It looked suspicious. But after 
all, a score or so of horsemen could hardly have 
meant to attack a walled village. And it was un- 
likely that if they were now to complain to the 
Shah's governor in Tehran they would get help. Nadir 
had always treated Armenians well, and the village, 
though heavily taxed, had never been seriously molested. 
It was unlikely that any great harm would befall it 

The girl went to her room at last, and in spite of the 
excitement of the day, she was soon asleep. 

Not long after midnight she was woken by a sound 
of wind and hail. A storm had come up along the 
mountains. She rose to fasten a wooden shutter which 
had been blown open. The night was very dark and 


cold. Some hail and snow were falling. She got back 
to bed and went to sleep again. 

When she woke once more, she sprang from her bed 
in wild alarm. She had been dreaming of her Indian 
home. In her ears was a roar of musket-shots, mingled 
with shouts and screams of terror, and the clash of 
steel. Too well she knew what it meant. The village 
was being attacked, and the enemy had got in. For 
a moment she stood by her bedside in doubt and 
fear, then taking from under her pillow her dagger 
and seal, and throwing on her cloak, she caught up 
the child, and ran for the staircase which led to the 

One look down into the village was enough. The 
sky was overcast ; but a sprinkling of new-fallen snow 
made the darkness less intense. Some lights were 
flickering in the houses, and in one of them something 
had caught fire and was beginning to blaze. By the 
confused, uncertain light she could see men fighting or 
running here and there. She turned towards the gate- 
way, and as she did so some figures sprang up upon 
the wall above it. At the same instant there was a 
crash below her, and some armed men broke into the 
courtyard of the house. She sprang across the bridge 
to the outer wall, and ran along the line of parapet 
away from the gate, towards the corner tower. There 
was a shout, and glancing back, she saw a Kurd racing 
after her, musket in hand. 

Only one chance of escape remained. Calling to the 
child to hold tight, she clambered over the low parapet, 
hung by her hands for a second, and dropped into the 
darkness outside. As she did so her pursuer reached 
the wall above her. Some snow had drifted against 
the corner of the tower and broke the fall, but the 


shock tore away the grasp of the frightened child. As 
Sitara picked her up from the snow there was a shot 
above their heads. 

Sitara ran on through the darkness until she had got 
behind a line of mulberry- trees, and then stopped, 
breathless and exhausted, to think what she should do. 
The child clung to her, sobbing and moaning. Sitara 
kissed her, and tried to comfort her, but she would 
not be quiet. * It hurts — it hurts,' she said. Then 
Sitara felt that her hand was hot and wet with 
blood. The child had been shot through the body 
near the shoulder.^ 

There was no other village within miles, and at any 
moment she might be pursued. She thought of her 
underground room in the kenat. If she could reach 
the shaft unseen, they would be safe for the moment. 
She went on again, moving as smoothly as she could, 
so as not to hurt the child, but she had lost a shoe in 
the fall, and the snow was not deep enough to cover 
the stones. More than once she trod barefooted on a 
sharp point, and stumbled. 

At last she reached the line of kenat holes, and 
groped her way to the shaft. To make sure, she laid 
down the moaning child in her cloak, outside the bank, 
and climbing over, felt for the wooden step. The 
inside of the bank was slippery with frost and snow, 
but she found the step and the rope. Some pigeons 
fluttered up past her head. 

She came out, and took up the child again, fastening 
the cloak tightly round them both so as to leave her 
limbs free. 

The descent was not so difficult as she had feared. 
The first few steps were slippery, and her numbed 
hands and feet almost failed her, but before she had 




gone down far she found the wood was dry. In a 
minute or two she was at the bottom. 

The underground room was much warmer than the 
upper air. She unfastened her cloak, and laid the 
child on the ground. Then tearing off some strips 
from her own clothing she steeped them in the running 
water of the kenat, and washed and bound the wounds 
as well as she could in the darkness. They were not 
bleeding much. 

She had left her flint and steel behind, and could not 
light the chiragh, and it might not have been safe. 
She sat with the child in her arms until the first 
glimmer of light came down the shaft. It broadened 
quickly, and soon Sitara was able to see, but this 
helped her little. There was nothing to be done. And 
the light brought with it a new fear, for she knew that 
if any of the Kurds chose to follow her, they would be 
able to track her steps easily enough in the snow. She 
might crawl away down the water channel, but not 
with the child. Still, if any one tried to come down 
the shaft, he would be at her mercy for a second, and 
she resolved to defend herself. 

She waited, as it seemed to her, for many hours. 
Looking up the shaft, she saw that it was broad day- 
light, and the sun was shining. The child's hands were 
hot with fever, and she still moaned a little, but feebly, 
and seemed unconscious. Sitara moistened her lips 
with water, but she took no notice. Then she shivered, 
and sighed gently, and was dead. 

Sitara sat for some time with the little body in her 
arms. Then she got up and took from a niche in the 
wall the knife she had used to bury her gold. She dug 
out a shallow grave, and laid the child in it. 

When she had done so, and waited a little longer, 



her restlessness became unendurable. By this time 
she thought the Kurds must have left the village. She 
could not bear the suspense any longer. 

She took her cloak again and secured it about her, 
placing her dagger where she could lay her hand on it. 
Then she climbed slowly up the shaft, listening at every 
step. There was not a sound but the murmur of the 
water below her, and the beating of her own heart. 
When her head was a few feet from the top of the 
shaft, so close that she feared any one looking down 
might see her, she stood for a full minute hardly daring 
to breathe. Suddenly she was startled by a shadow 
crossing the sunlight. She shrank against the side of 
the shaft, but as she did so there was a faint whistle of 
wings, and a pigeon alighted on the earthen bank 
above her. She knew there could be no one near, and 
climbed up the last steps. The pigeon flew away, and 
she came into the sunlight, and crouched on the inside 
of the bank, slowly raising her head until she could 
see over the edge. Her first look was towards the 
village. It was hidden by the ground, but a heavy 
smoke was going up from it straight into the blue 
sky. From the position of the sun she guessed that it 
was an hour before noon. She looked carefully all 
round her. There was not a living thing in sight. 

She came cautiously out of her shelter in the shaft, 
and stooping low, crept up to the top of the nearest 
hillock. There she lay down among some rocks. Then 
she ventured to raise her head and look over. 

The hillock commanded a view of the slope towards 
the plain, and of the plain itself. As her eyes came 
over the crest, they fell upon a sight which made her 
crouch down again in terror. 

On the track leading to the town, and only a few 






hundred feet away, the Kurd horsemen were riding 
slowly down, their spear-heads moving and glittering 
in the sun. For a moment Sitara lay with her face 
hidden on the ground. Then her courage came back to 
her. If she had been seen she had only just time to 
run for her last refuge, the open shaft. She raised her 
head again. The Kurds were riding steadily on. 

This time she watched them carefully, and saw that 
their backs were turned to her. The band was much 
larger than it had been the day before. There were 
about a hundred spears. Among them she saw, with a 
thrill at her heart, that there were some women. 

Sitara lay for an hour watching the Kurds march 
away, and examining the country all round her. There 
was no sign of life within sight except the long line of 
horsemen. She saw them leave the track leading to 
the town, and file away to the westward. At last they 
disappeared in the distance behind some sand-hills. 
She was feeling chilled and cramped, for though the 
sun was warm, the snow still lay among the stones. 
One of her feet was bruised, and she began to feel the 
want of food. At last she decided to go to the village 
and see whether she could find any one alive. If not, 
she would try to reach the town and find Miriam. 

She got up and made her way, limping over the stony 
ground, to the line of mulberry-trees, and watched the 
village again for a few minutes. It was burning 
fiercely. None of the Kurds would have remained 
there so long. 

Finally, she summoned all her courage, and with a 
beating heart came out from the trees, and walked 
towards the gateway. The gate was wide open, and 
she passed in. 

A horrible sight met her eyes. On every side the 


houses were blazing up, and the crash of falling roofs 
was all round her. Among the burning ruins and in 
every open spot the bodies were lying, men and women 
and children. Not one showed a sign of life. Some 
village dogs were tearing the carcase of a mule, and 
Sitara shuddered at the remembrance of the Kurd 
leader's words. 

For some minutes she wandered about the village, 
wherever the gathering flames allowed, calling and 
listening, but no answer came. The Kurds had done 
their work too well. Then one of the dogs yelped and 
ran for the gateway, where some beams were catching 
fire. The rest followed, and Sitara saw that unless 
she went too, she would be cut off. A moment more 
and she was standing in the sunlight outside, sick with 
horror. When she had recovered herself, she walked 
round the walls towards the mountain-side, calling 
aloud. On the way she found the shoe she had dropped. 
In a field close by she came upon two dead women. 
They had tried to escape as she did, but had been shot 
down. It made her wonder the more at her own escape. 

Against the wall were standing three rough ladders 
made of newly cut branches. The Kurds had suc- 
ceeded in bringing them up in the darkness, and had 
scaled the wall unseen, or seen too late. 

At last she gave up all hope of finding any one alive, 
and turned to the thought of getting down to Miriam 
in the town. It was a long way to go, and the gates 
would be closed by sunset. It might be safer to wait 
till dark. But she felt that she ought to go at once. 
It was the only hope of rescuing the girls who had 
been carried off, and of punishing the Kurds. If 
any one offered to harm her she had always her 


She remembered that in an orchard near the village 
she had seen some apples lying under the trees. She 
went and picked up a few, and tied them in her cloak, 
eating them as she walked back to the shaft. 

She dug up her hoard, and secured it about her. 
Then she cut a rude cross in the wall above the child's 
grave, and kneeling down, said a few words of 

After that, she washed her wounded foot in the 
running water, bound it up with some rags torn from 
her clothing, and climbed up her stairway again. 

The village was burning fiercely as she set out on her 
journey, and when she looked back from the last turn 
of the road where it was visible, she saw that the gate- 
way had fallen outwards. 

Sitara limped up to the city gates a few minutes 
before sunset, having met no one on the stony track 
till she was close to the walls, and in comparative 
safety. She passed in unchallenged, holding her cloak 
over her face, and before the winter night had fairly 
closed in she was once more in Miriam's house, heavy 
hearted with the tale she had to tell, but free from 



There was still some wealth among the Armenians 
of Tehran, and it was known that Nadir had always 
shown them favour. 

After some delay the governor of the town was 
induced by large presents to make an effort for the 
capture of the Kurds, and in the course of the next 
morning horsemen were out trying to follow their 
tracks, while a special messenger galloped westward 
along the road to Kasvin to warn the governor there. 
But the country was disorganised, and the two 
governors were not friends. Nothing more was ever 
heard of the raiders, who made their way safely to 
their own country, hiding and bribing and fighting by 
turns, until all pursuit was over. 

The attack on the village had been an organised plot. 
The main body of the Kurds had remained hidden in 
the sand-hills, while the smaller party tried to obtain 
admittance. The arrangement had been upset by the 
accidental meeting with the Armenian on the road; 
but the result unhappily had been the same. 

Little was found in the smouldering ruins of Verawa 
but the charred bones of the dead ; and whatever of 
value was found, the governor seized and kept, * pend- 
ing the orders of the Shah.' 

A month after the night of the attack the Armenian 
Ovanes started from Ispahan to look after his affairs 


in Verawa, and Sitara awaited his arrival with deep 
anxiety. The accounts which had been coming up 
from the Shah's camp were worse than ever. Nadir's 
exactions and the awful punishments inflicted by him 
were in every one's mouth. It was openly said that he 
was mad, and that all the Persians in his service were 
in daily terror of their lives. There were rumours of 
conspiracies against him among his most trusted 
servants, and in his own family. All seemed to agree 
that matters could not go on as they were, and that 
some catastrophe was impending. 

These stories came to Sitara's ears, and once more 
there arose in her heart an overpowering desire to go 
back to him. More than ever she believed that her 
long concealment had been useless, and worse than 
useless. She began again to reproach herself, as she 
had often done before, and to feel that if she had gone 
back at the beginning she might have prevented much 
of what had happened. Her longing to go now had 
become unbearable. 

She resolved that when Ovanes arrived she would 
make another effort. 

But it was not needed. The Armenian rode in one 
afternoon, and late that evening Miriam came to her 
room and summoned her to meet him. There was 
something in the beautiful old face that made Sitara's 
heart beat. 

*What is it?' Sitara asked. *Has he any news for 

Miriam took her hand. *Come,' she said, 'and my 
God guide you. Come.' 

Sitara went with her to the room where Ovanes was 
awaiting them ; and it seemed to her that in his face 
too she saw the same look of mingled joy and regret. 


He met her inquiries and her condolences with a quiet 
inclination of the head, and a few words of thanks. 
Then he said, *Khanuni, I have news for you. God 
grant that it may be for your good.' 

Sitara looked at him with an eager question in her 

*Khanum, you have heard what is happening at 
Ispahan. There is much discontent and murmuring 
on all sides, and among those who are faithful servants 
of the Shah there is great trouble.' 

Sitara's face flushed. 

* Whatever the Shah has done must have been 
necessary. The Persians are always discontented and 

*Khdnum, the Persians have suffered much. They 
are becoming desperate. You know that when the 
Hakim went away he never returned. He was a great 
loss. Since then the Catolicos and the Agha Bashi 
have done all they could, but they can do no more. 
They are now afraid to speak. Unless there is a 
change, some great evil may happen. They think there 
is danger to the Shah.' 

* I ought to be with him. They ought never to have 
kept me away from him. For God's sake, let me go 
now. I cannot stay here any longer.' 

*You still wish to go? You will be risking your 

' My life ! What is my life ? What has it been all these 
miserable years? Oh! forgive me. God knows I am 
not ungrateful for all your goodness. But I ought 
never to have left him. Help me to go now.' 

*Khdnum, if you are ready to go, it is no longer 
impossible. The Catolicos and the Agha Bashi have 
thought much about it, and about all you have said. 


For the Shah's sake they are willing now to run any 
risk to themselves. They think that you may be able 
to do something. If you cannot, no one can, and God 
knows what will happen.' 

Sitara's hands were clenched together, and her face 
was alight with joy. 

' At last ! ' she said. ' Oh ! thank God, thank God ! ' 
She sprang to her feet. ' Let me go now — to-night. I 
can be ready in an hour.' 

A smile came into the Armenian's eyes. * Khanum, 
there is plenty of time. The Shah is starting for 
Meshed by way of Kirman, and you could not over- 
take him. If you go straight to Meshed from here you 
will arrive before the camp. But sit down and listen. 
You will forgive what I say ? ' 

' I will forgive anything, but do not try to stop me.' 

* Khanum, the Agha Bashi begs you to think care- 
fully before you decide. He says, forgive me for 
speaking, that the Shah has never mentioned your 
name since — since that day. The Agha Bashi has tried 
several times to lead up to it, but in vain.' 

*If the Shah had been really angry with me he 
would not have remained silent. I know he never 
meant to do me harm.' 

* I hope it is so. But Khanum, think. It is a long 
time. And forgive me — the memories of men are short.' 

'Would you have forgotten Miriam in a few 
years ? ' 

Miriam took the girl's hand and held it hard. Her 
husband smiled. 

'Well, Khanum, I will say no more now. Go and 
think it all over quietly. To-morrow, if you are 
determined to go, we will make up our plans, and you 
shall start as soon as it is any use.' 


Sitara turned to Miriam. ' You always said it would 
come. You kept hope alive in my heart all these 
years, and gave me strength to live. You taught me 
to pray to your God, and now He has heard me. 
Henceforth, to the day of my death, I will bless Him 
and trust Him.' 




Not many days later, on a bright winter morning, 
Sitara rode away from Tehran with a kafila bound 
for Meshed. 

There had been a fall of snow, but the sky was 
cloudless again. All round her the white plain was 
glittering in the sunlight. The air was clear and keen 
as it seems only to be on the great plateau of Central 

In spite of her parting from Miriam, her heart was 
singing within her, and her young blood tingled with 
the joy of living. 

She had chosen to ride in preference to being carried 
in a kejaveh. She longed to be on a horse once 

* I shall have to ride again when I am with the camp,' 
she said. ' I must get used to it beforehand.' 

Ovanes rode beside her. He was going to rejoin the 
camp too, in pursuit of his business. 

As they came to the top of the low stony pass a 
few miles to the eastward, Sitara reined up and looked 
back at the city. Its mosques and towers stood out 
against the snow, and she could see the roofs of 
the palace where her sorrow had come upon her. 
She thought of the blinded Prince living there year 
after year in his helplessness and misery. At last, 
for her, that time of sorrow was over, but for him ? 


She turned away her eyes to the northward, to the 
long gentle slope which touched the foot of the great 
Tuchal. Mountain and slope alike were dazzling white 
against the blue of the sky, and so clear that every 
building could be seen. The ruins of Verawa were 
hidden in a fold of the sand-hills, but she could see 
the dark clump of trees above it. She sighed at the 
thought of the fate which had come upon the peace- 
ful village, and the people who had been so good to 

The old Armenian sat on his horse beside her. 

* Come away, Khanum,' he said. * It was a sad time 
for you. Please God, you will be happy now.' 

Her eyes lingered on the scene for a moment more. 
*I shall never forget all you and yours did for me,' 
she said. * I have been very ungrateful. It was a time 
of peace, and I can never forget.' 

Then she turned and rode on in silence, and in 
spite of the hope in her heart her eyes were full of 

It was a long and dreary march to Meshed, six 
hundred miles of stony road and winter weather. 
Often as she rode slowly along with the caravan she 
was chilled to the bone, for there were days when 
the sun was overcast, and snow fell. At night it 
froze hard, and the ' serais,' where they found shelter 
at night, were bare and comfortless, with no privacy 
or warmth. As a rule, Sitara had no sleeping-place 
but a shallow alcove in the wall of the courtyard, 
which was crowded with mules and camels. Even 
that sleeping-place was shared with other women. 
The cold and dirt and noise were at times almost 

All along the road she was made unhappy by the 


signs of suffering and discontent which she could 
not avoid seeing. A great change had come over 
the country, and the feelings of men, during the 
years she had spent at Verawa. The road passed by 
deserted villages and untilled fields. Her fellow- 
travellers of the caravan, and even the soldiers who 
escorted them, spoke openly against the Shah, curs- 
ing him for a bloodthirsty tyrant. Sometimes the 
talk of the women about her was almost more than 
she could bear. Nothing but the earnest warnings of 
Ovanes against betraying herself prevented her from 
many an outburst of fiery indignation. 

But youth and the great hope in her heart bore her 
up ; and at last, weary and travel-worn, but strong and 
well, she saw before her the walls of Meshed the Holy. 

During those long weeks, riding side by side, the 
old man and Sitara had discussed over and over again 
their plans for the future. Travellers from Meshed 
meeting them on the road reported that the Shah had 
not arrived. If the camp was there when the caravan 
marched in she was to see the Agha Bashi, and to 
arrange with him for making herself known to Nadir. 
She had made up her mind, as far as she could do so 
in advance. She would choose a time when Nadir was 
alone and ask for an interview. He would not refuse 
to see a woman. Then she would trust to his old love 
for her and raise her veil. There should be no attempt 
at concealment or preparation. He had loved her, 
and she believed his heart would turn to her again at 
the sight of her face. 

Day after day and night after night she went over 
all the details of the meeting that was to be. Some- 
times a dreadful fear gripped her heart, fear not 
for her life but for what was far more to her. 


Perhaps another had taken her place, and he would 
turn from her in coldness and indifference. Perhaps 
he would find her aged and altered ; and her old power 
over him would be gone. That would be worse than 
death. But her dark moods were not many. 

* He did love me — he did love me,' she said to herself 
again and again. That was her sheet-anchor. And 
she knew that she was still beautiful. It was with 
hope and confidence that she faced the meeting. She 
would see his eyes light up with pleasure, as she had 
seen them of old, and in a moment all her doubts 
would be over. As to those who had deceived him 
to save her life he would forgive them gladly. All 
would be well. 

When she rode into Meshed her first news was a 
disappointment. The camp was still far distant, and 
no one knew when Nadir might arrive. She might 
have to wait for weeks or months before her fate was 

And when Sitara had settled down among the 
Armenians of Meshed her first disappointment was 
succeeded by other and worse tidings. 

Though much was kept from her, much came to her 
ears, and all that came was dreadful to her. She soon 
learned that even in Nadir's own province, where the 
exploits of his earlier days had made him idolised, 
his name was now execrated by all. The very children 
babbled curses, and spat on the ground at the mention 
of him. Worse than all, men spoke openly of the 
conspiracies forming against his life, and prayed for 
their success. It was even said that his nephew, Ali 
Kuli, whom he had always treated as a favourite son, 
was among the disaffected. The Persians talked of him 
as the man who would sooner or later overthrow the 


tyrant, and deliver them from the insolence of his 
cursed Afghans and Tartars. 

Much of all this Sitara tried to disbelieve. 'The 
Persians were always the same,' she said to Ovanes, 
•always ungrateful, and always liars and boasters, 
brave at a distance, but cowards at heart. When the 
Shah comes we shall hear a very different story. They 
will cringe before him then, and swear there was 
never a king so great and good. ' 

But the old man shook his head. ' Khanum,' he said, 
' do not deceive yourself. The times are bad and there 
is danger. God grant that all may yet go well, but 
things are not well now.' 

And day by day the truth of his words came home 
to her till her heart was dark with the shadow of fear. 

Then she set to work to find out everything she 
could, so as to be of use to Nadir when he came. Ali 
Kuli's Christian wife, her old friend, was in Meshed, 
but Sitara was afraid to go to her now. It was more 
than ever necessary to keep herself in concealment. 
But in so far as she dared she worked hard to get 
information, and Ovanes helped her gladly. It was 
only too easy. Before long she knew that the man she 
loved was ringed round with hatred and treason, and 
that his enemies were growing daily more fearless 
and dangerous. The conviction came upon her that 
unless Nadir could be turned from the course he was 
pursuing he was doomed. 

She did not love him the less because her eyes were 
opened. He was maddened by remorse and misery, 
she thought, but his real nature was the same as of 
old. She knew him as no one else did, and she would 
save him from himself. The God who had spared her 
life would help her, and she would save him. 



Through those long winter months Sitara remained in 
Meshed, waiting impatiently for the coming of the 
camp, and always the news grew worse and worse. 

From time to time fearful tales came from the South, 
tales of devastation and woe. It was said that the 
Shah was at Kerman, ravaging and torturing and 
slaying like a madman. Men spoke of harmless 
peasants and traders mutilated or blinded or put to 
death with horrible torments, of great pyramids of 
heads marking the halting-places of the army. And as 
they spoke they poured out threats and curses. 

Ali Kuli had left Meshed for Herat to put down a 
revolt. It was openly said that he would never return, 
that he had gone to join the rebels, and would soon 
declare himself. 

The whole air seemed full of horror and doubt, men's 
hearts failing them for fear, or hardening into a 
desperate resolve to endure no more. 

Turn where she would Sitara heard nothing to cheer 
her. Not a voice was raised in defence of the man who 
had delivered his country, and raised her to the heights 
of glory and empire. All was forgotten except that he 
had hated and tormented his people. 

The winter gave way to spring, and hope came back 
to Sitara's heart. But it was an anxious hope, full of 
fear and doubt. 

Then at last definite news came that the army was 



marching for Meshed, and parties sent on in advance 
began to arrive; and one morning, when the trees 
were green again, Nadir made his entry into the 

Sitara's longing to see him was more than she could 
endure, and the old Armenian, yielding reluctantly to 
her entreaties, let her come with him, hidden in her 
long cloak and veil, to mingle in the crowd. 

It was a dangerous crowd, full of mullas and 
theological students, always turbulent and seditious. 
But Sitara would not be denied. 

Her impatience took them into the street long before 
the hour fixed for the Shah's arrival, and the time of 
waiting was a weary one. Though it was spring, the 
day was dark and gloomy, and at times rain fell. All 
about her the crowd murmured and jeered ; and when 
a body of Afghans forming part of the advanced guard 
marched into the town they were received with scowls 
and curses. They evidently knew the feeling against 
them, for as they rode by, big bearded men in yellow 
sheep-skins, they cast to right and left glances of 
hatred and contempt. After them came troop after 
troop of Turkomans, with their flat Tartar faces and 
huge sheep-skin caps. At them too the Persians jeered 
and murmured. 

*See, see, the Adam fariish, the man-sellers. May 
dogs defile their graves ! ' 

MuUa Abdul Kerim, standing among a knot of 
students, cursed them in a loud voice and spat on the 
ground. One of the Turkomans brought down the 
point of his spear, and the mulla dived into the crowd 
with a cry of terror. The Turkoman rode on laughing, 
and there was a laugh all round. The Persians had no 
love for the mullas, even in Meshed the Holy. 



More troops went by, thousand after thousand, 
steady and cool and careless, bearing upon them the 
unmistakable stamp of men to whom war was a 
trade. Then there was a distant muffled roar which 
rolled nearer and nearer, and the crowd began to 
heave and push to the front; and Sitara, her heart 
beating wildly, knew that the moment she had longed 
for was coming at last. There was a sound of martial 
music half drowned by the roar of the crowd ; and 
between the heads and shoulders of men in front she 
caught sight of the red-tipped turbans and steel 
cuirasses of the Guard, as they swung by grandly, rank 
after rank, the proudest infantry in the world. Through 
a rift in the cloud there came a sudden gleam of sun- 
shine, which fell like a glory on their waving banners 
of crimson and gold. 

And then, towering high above the serried lines of 
his veterans, and the heads of the surging crowd, she 
saw him again, the man she had worshipped, her 
conqueror and King. What then to her were the 
murmurs and the forebodings of evil that had darkened 
her spirit ? He rode by, tall and straight and powerful 
as ever, his war-horse moving proudly under him. She 
saw again the golden helmet, and the strong, black- 
bearded face, and the stern eyes that had grown soft 
for her. 

His hand rested as of old on the battle-axe that all 
men knew. Once it had struck her to the earth, 
stunned and bleeding, but she never thought of that. 
She stood gazing at him with parted lips and eager 
eyes, all her woman's heart going out to him in a 
passion of pride and love. At last ! At last ! 

It was over. His bodyguard had ridden in behind 
him, and he had passed away from her sight. She had 


caught in the distance the last gleam of light from the 
golden helmet. The crowd began to press and jostle 
about her, talking and gesticulating. The old Armenian 
touched her arm and brought her back to herself. She 
sighed a long sigh of contentment, and turned to go. 
As she did so, Mulla Abdul Kerim brushed past them, 
and twitching away the skirt of his cloak, cursed them 
for a couple of Christian dogs. But she cared nothing 
for jostling or curses. Her heart was full of triumph 
and happiness. Why had she ever doubted and feared ? 
What danger could touch him in all his strength and 
glory, with his splendid veterans about him, and his 
lofty spirit dominating all ? Coward and faithless that 
she had been ! 



That night was one of the happiest in Sitara's life. 
The burden of sorrow seemed to have fallen from her 
heart. He was close to her. Next day she could see 
him again, and perhaps before another night passed 
she would be in his arms. 

Even the old Armenian seemed to have been en- 
couraged by the bearing of Nadir and his army of 
veterans. It was true that the crowd had shown 
none of their old enthusiasm at the sight of him. 
Before he came there had been murmurs and curses 
instead of joy. But when he rode by the curses 
had ceased, and Nadir had extorted from them, in 
spite of themselves, some signs of wonder and admira- 

Ovanes was in better spirits, and as Sitara talked 
on with flushed face and glowing eyes, full of con- 
fidence and joy, he seemed to catch something of her 

Next day the Kurk was to march in, and then, he 
said, he would see the Agha Bashi and bring news. 
Meantime Sitara could go, safe in the concealment of 
her long cloak and veil, and join the crowd at the 
Diwan Khaneh, where Nadir was sure to be sitting at 
his work as usual. 

In her excitement the girl slept little, and soon after 
daybreak she was ready to start. They went together 


to the open space in front of the hall of audience, and 
saw Nadir ride up and take his seat. They could not 
get close to him, but Sitara was near enough to see 
that he was as of old very simply dressed in white. In 
his turban shone the great diamond of the Moghuls, the 
Koh-i-nur. As of old he had his axe in his hand, and 
laid it beside him on the takht. 

Then began the long day's work she remembered 
so well. It seemed but yesterday since she had seen 
him sitting there, with the groups of tribesmen and 
soldiers going up before him one after another, and 
Ali Akbar standing beside him reading out papers. 
It was all exactly as it had been. She watched for 
hours, and could have watched for many more, im- 
patient, and longing to get nearer, but intensely 
happy. She was back in the old life which she 
feared she had lost for ever. Even the crowd seemed 
the same. There was no cursing now, nothing 
apparently but the old curiosity and love of a 
* tamasha,' a show. 

When they had stood till the old man was tired, 
and longing to get away, Ali Akbar came down the 
steps from the Diwan Khaneh and walked through 
the crowd. Nadir had sent him to get some papers. 
He passed close by them, and Sitara noticed that he 
was changed. He looked older, and walked heavily, 
and his face had no longer the same merry expres- 
sion. But his eye was as quick as ever. He recog- 
nised Ovanes, with whom he had had dealings, and 
nodded with his old pleasant smile. Sitara fancied 
that his glance rested on her, and she shrank back 
with a sudden thrill of fear. Ali Akbar went on, and 
she knew that he could not possibly have recognised 
her under her veil; but the meeting had made her 


uneasy. When Ovanes proposed that they should go 
back, as the Kurk might soon be marching in, she 
agreed at once. 

For the rest of the day she remained at home, 
anxiously looking for news. About sunset the 
Armenian, who had gone out again, returned to the 
house. He reported that the Kurk had come in, and 
that he had spoken for a moment to the Agha Bashi, 
who would, if possible, get leave that night and come 
to see her. She awaited his arrival in a fever of 

Late at night, when they had almost given up hopes 
of seeing him, he arrived, and Sitara received him with 
a joy that she made no attempt to conceal. He seemed 
almost equally pleased to see her. 

But directly the first greetings were over Sitara 
saw that he too was greatly changed. He looked aged 
and shrunken, and his dark face had lost the old look 
of peace and good-humour. He had become nervous 
and unquiet in his manner. And when he began to 
answer her eager questions about his master his depres- 
sion and anxiety were only too evident. He said Nadir 
was not ill, that for the moment the march seemed to 
have done him good. ' 

* But, oh ! Khanum, he is so different from what he 
used to be. Ever since the blinding of Reza Khan 
he has been growing more and more fierce and piti- 
less. And now, Khanum, not one of us dares to look 
him in the face. If he had only listened to you and 
the Hakim, all would have been well. But he was 
deceived, and grief has darkened his mind. To me he 
has always been good, and I am ready to give my life 
for him, but to others he is always suspicious and angry. 
All are in terror for their lives. Khanum, it cannot 


go on like this. I can see that fear is making all about 
him desperate. No man, however faithful, can hope to 
escape for long. They are becoming mad and reckless, 
for they have no hope, and God knovrs what will be the 
end. Khanum, I am afraid for his life.' 

The negro's hands were trembling, and his eyes full 
of tears. 

Sitara listened with a sinking heart. ' But the troops 
are staunch,' she said. * So long as they remain true to 
their salt no one can do anything.' 

* Khanum, but for that it would have ended long 
ago. The Shah still shows favour to his Afghans and 
Uzbegs, and they are faithful. So are some of the 
Kizlbash. But you know the Shah hates the Persians 
and shows them no mercy. Many even of the troops are 

This and much more he told her, until her new- 
born confidence was sorely shaken again. And when 
she pressed him to let her go at once to Nadir and 
make herself known, he seemed afraid. He urged 
her to be cautious. She must do nothing rash. He 
would watch for an opportunity and let her know. 
He spoke irresolutely, without any confidence. It 
almost seemed as if he repented having sent for her, 
and dared not put it to the touch. 

But Sitara was in no mood to be stopped now. She 
had never believed in the wisdom of concealing from 
Nadir the fact of her being alive, and now, seeing that 
the negro had lost all faith in himself, she felt that 
she would no longer let herself be led by him. She 
must act on her own judgment. In proportion as his 
courage sank her own rose to supply its place. 

Boldly and firmly she put aside his pleas for 


*No,' she said, *I know the Shah. I know that he 
never meant to harm me. I know that he will not be 
angry with me now. You were very good to me, and 
for your sake I acted against my own judgment. Now 
if all you say is true, it is a question of saving him. 
Agha Sahib, I cannot be silent any longer. I do not 
want you to help me if you think there is danger. I 
will go to him myself. He will not refuse to see a 
woman. For his sake I must go.' 

In the end her courage and confidence prevailed over 
his fears. Hesitating and anxious, but carried away by 
the strength of her will, he gave a reluctant assent. 
Before they parted it was settled that next day, when 
Nadir had returned from the Diwan Khaneh, and was 
alone, Sitara should present herself and ask for an 
interview. The Agha Bashi would do what he could 
to help her without putting himself forward. If any 
question arose she would tell the Shah that the Hakim 
had saved her life and concealed her. 

To do him justice the Agha Bashi was not thinking 
only of himself ; and when she had screwed his courage 
to the sticking-point, he behaved bravely enough. He 
made no pretence that he was not afraid, but he resolved 
to face all risks, and meet his death, if need be, in the 
attempt to save his master. 

* Khanum,' he said, * you have put me to shame. You 
have the heart of a lion. I will stand by you whatever 
happens. It is for his sake. God grant that all may go 

*A11 will go well,' she said. 'I know it. My heart 
tells me so. Do not fear. To-morrow all our troubles 
will be over.' 

The Agha Bashi rose to take his leave, his whole being 
dominated for the time by her fearless spirit. Before he 



went she asked him one question which had been trem- 
bling on her lips. 

' The Shirazi,' Sitara said ; ' is she here ? Can she still 
do harm ? ' 

' She is here, Khanum, but she is not in favour. For 
the sake of Ali Akbar the Shah keeps her with him, but 
he distrusts Ali Akbar now, and he rarely sees her.' 

Sitara hesitated and flushed hotly. Then she laid 
her hand on the African's arm, and raised her eyes to 
his face. 

' Is there any other who is — who is more to the Shah ? ' 

* No, Khanum. Since you have been away the Shah 
has never listened to any one in the Anderun. No one 
has ever been to him what you were.' 

Her eyes shone with triumphant joy. *I knew it, 
she said, ' I knew he would not forget.' 



At sunset the next day Nadir left his Diwan Khaneh, 
and rode back to his private quarters. Sitara and 
Ovanes, who had been waiting in the crowd, followed 
him quietly, and stopped near a gateway where the 
Agha Bashi had told them to wait. 

Soon after dark a negro servant sauntered up to 
them and saluted. 

* Who are you ? ' he said to the Armenian, * and what 
is your business ? Is it the business of the Armenian 
Khanum who lives at Verawa?' The words were a 
sign agreed upon the night before. 

*We are here by order of your master the Agha 
Bashi,' Ovanes said. ' My name is Ovanes.' 

The negro saluted again. * Good, you can remain 
here. The Khanum will please to follow me.' 

Sitara stepped forward. ' God protect you and bless 
you, my daughter,' the old man said in Armenian. 
His voice broke, and she laid her hand on his for an 

* Do not fear for me. I know all will go well,' and 
she passed through the gateway with head erect, and 
firm step. 

The negro led her across a courtyard to a door in 
the palace wall, and then along a passage ending in 
a small waiting-room, where he left her. They had 
mot no one. 


A minute or two later the Agha Bashi came in. He 
looked ill and excited, his dark face almost grey 
with fear. Sitara could see that his hands were 

* Khanum, are you quite sure you can do it ? ' he said. 
* If you have any doubt, for God's sake wait a day or 
two. It is not too late.' 

Sitara raised her veil. Her face was pale and her 
eyes very bright, but there was not a sign of 
unsteadiness about her. She smiled up at him. 

* I have no doubt. I am quite ready.' 

The Agha Bashi looked at her in astonishment. 

' It is wonderful,' he said. 

He told her that a servant would inform the Shah, 
who was alone, that an Armenian woman begged to 
be allowed to see him on important business. If he 
refused, the servant was to say that she was a friend 
of the old Hakim Alavi Khan. If he still refused, there 
was no other way but to send him her seal. 

* You have brought it as I asked you ? ' 

* Of course, but I do not wish to send it. I must go 
to him myself. If he sees me, all will be well.' 

* But if he will not see you otherwise ? ' 

* Then I will send it.' 

The Agha Bashi went out and gave an order. When 
he returned he sat in silence, nervously clenching and 
unclenching his hands. 

They waited a few minutes only, and then the negro 
servant came into the room. 

*The Shah is alone, and will see the Khanum at 

Sitara rose and followed him. All had gone so easily 
that she could hardly believe she had succeeded, and 
as often happens in the crisis of a life, she was 


wondering at her own calmness and freedom from 
concern. But when she stood before the curtain 
which hung across the door of Nadir's room, there 
came to her a sense of all that the next moment would 
mean to her ; and the sound of the deep, well-known 
voice telling the servant to bring her in, almost over- 
came her courage. For a moment her heart stopped 
beating. But the brave Rajput blood saved her from 
giving way. She steadied herself with a desperate 
effort and walked in, her figure erect and her head 
up. As she came before the takht on which Nadir was 
sitting, he raised his eyes, and she saw him start and 
look at her closely. 
But the deep voice showed no sign of emotion. 

* Who are you and what is your business ? ' he said. 
* Raise your veil that I may see you.' 

Sitara's hand went up. It was trembling now. 

* My Lord, forgive me,' she said, and she stood before 
him with uncovered face and pleading eyes. 

A hoarse cry broke from him, and he sprang to his 
feet with a look of amazement that was almost fear. 
She threw herself on her knees before him, but he 
seized her arms and drew her up, gazing into her 

* Great God ! They told me that I had killed you, 
and all these years I have been in hell. Why did 
you leave me? God knows I never meant to harm 

* My Lord, I always knew it, and tried to go back, 
but I could not. I was ill, and you had marched to 
Daghestan, and they would not let me go.' 

* Who dared to stop you ? Who dared to deceive 
me ? By God ! they shall die this hour.' 

Sitara looked in his face with smiling eyes. 


'I know that you have forgiven me now, and all 
that misery is past. You will not darken the first 
hour of my happiness ? You will forgive them too. I 
know you will forgive them.' 

Ovanes waited long, forgotten, by the palace gate- 
way. It was late in the evening, and he was worn out 
with anxiety and fatigue, when Sitara came to him. 
She insisted on going herself to make amends for her 
forgetfulness, and to bring him the good news he was 
longing to hear. On her way she spoke a word of 
comfort to the Agha Bashi, who had also forgotten 

And then for the first few hours Sitara felt that the 
whole world was hers. That night all thought of the 
troubles which threatened them was put aside. 

When at last Nadir slept, the darkness had cleared 
away from his spirit. He lay with open brow and 
restful face. One night at least of peace and perfect 
happiness heaven had vouchsafed to them. 

And kneeling by his side Sitara poured out her soul 
in words of passionate gratitude to the God who had 
heard her prayers. 




But in the meantime the news of her return had 
spread through the Anderun, and while she was drink- 
ing the first draught of her new-found happiness, the 
old snares were being woven about her. 

To the Shirazi the tidings had come with a cruel 
shock, and her hatred blazed up again as fiercely as 
ever. The night was still young when she came to 
her brother's quarters. He was deep in his cups as 
usual, and in no humour to be worried with serious 
business, but her first words startled him into atten- 
tion. She broke into the subject with characteristic 

* Listen,' she said, disregarding his polite inquiries, 
for Ali Akbar was always polite. 

* Listen. The Indian girl has come back, and is with 
the Shah again. God knows by what sorceries she has 
been raised from the grave to torment us.' 

* Allah! It is impossible. She has been dead for 

' Dead or not dead, she is in the palace. The Agha 
Bashi, upon whose head be curses, told me so himself, 
grinning like a black devil with joy. I could have 
stabbed him.' 

* Wonderful ! But after all, what harm can she do ? ' 
*You will drive me mad. What a fool you can be. 

Has she not always been against us? She and that 


filthy negro ? Whenever we have had to do with her 
we have eaten dirt. She hates us, and will use all her 
Indian devilments against us again. And the blood- 
drinker has no love for you now.' 

'He wants money more than ever, and no one else 
can get it for him. I am not afraid of a girl.' 

But he was afraid. He felt that Sitara had always 
distrusted him and his sister. Probably now she 
knew they had tried to lure her to her death. He 
had a superstitious feeling that things had not gone 
right with him since he had joined the plot against 

And now he was standing on dangerous ground. He 
was very deep in treason. Partly from vanity and 
love of intrigue, partly from fear, he had become 
involved in a widespread conspiracy against his master. 
He was, in fact, the leader of the Persian malcontents, 
the brains of the party which aimed at Nadir's down- 
fall. For a long time past he had seen that he was no 
longer in favour, that Nadir would never forgive his 
enmity to Reza Khan, and only endured him for his 
usefulness. He had resented it, and revenged himself 
by making all the mischief he could. Everything 
Nadir did had been used by him to stir up bad feeling. 
And Nadir, in his madness, had given ample oppor- 
tunities to a watchful enemy. Every act and word 
against the priesthood, every favour shown to Afghans 
and Tartars, every sign of hatred and contempt for 
Persians, every one of Nadir's pitiless punishments, 
from which Persians were the chief sufferers, had 
strengthened Ali Akbar's hands. He was not brave, or 
capable of lofty patriotism, or even of fierce hatred. A 
little regard for his feelings, and love of ease, a little 
consideration for his ' izzat,' his honour in the sight of 


men, would have disarmed him. But Nadir treated 
him with ever-increasing harshness and contempt, 
wounding his vanity, and arousing his fears. So 
gradually he had let himself be drawn deeper and 
deeper into treason. 

Of late he had come to the conclusion that the con- 
spiracy he had fomented was drawing to a head. The 
mullas and the Persian military chiefs who attended 
the informal meetings at his house, were becoming 
more and more outspoken and definite in their threats. 
He had heard of a half -formed plot to murder Nadir on 
the first opportunity. He knew that Nadir's system 
of secret intelligence had become less active and 
accurate. From overwork, or over-confidence, Nadir 
had begun to show less care in managing the spies 
who had served him so well, and his information was 
not as good as it had been. Altogether it seemed 
to Ali Akbar that his master's sands had nearly run 

He was in this frame of mind when he received an 
answer to a letter which he had written to Nadir's 
nephew and favourite, Ali Kuli, at Herat. With infinite 
care and circumlocution, but in words which were 
plain enough to a past master in Persian intrigue, and 
were supplemented by verbal messages, he was in- 
formed that Ali Kuli had turned against his benefactor, 
and would soon declare himself. The prince expressed 
the strongest goodwill towards Ali Akbar, and full 
reliance upon Ali Akbar's support, which would be 
well rewarded. 

This message finally turned the scale, and Ali Akbar 
had resolved to throw his whole weight upon Ali 
Kuli's side. The more the conspiracy could be hurried 
on now the better. His very fears emboldened him to 


the verge of rashness. A frightened man is capable of 

So, although he was trying for the moment, with 
characteristic indolence and love of ease, to drown his 
cares in wine, his sister found him in a mood upon 
which her keener energy and will could work with 

He had not told her everything, for he distrusted her 
petulant vanity and her over-ready tongue. But she 
knew much, and now she made good use of her know- 
ledge. With fierce volubility she pressed upon him 
the danger of the situation if Sitara should regain her 
old influence over Nadir's mind. Nadir was still strong, 
and it would not take much to turn the scale in his 
favour again. The girl had always been on the 
opposite side to them. She had done her best to save 
Nadir from the great error of his life, the blinding of 
Reza Khan. She would do all she could now to check 
him in his career of frenzied cruelty. His Afghans and 
Tartars were still with him. If he were persuaded to 
be more merciful and conciliatory towards others, it 
was impossible to say what the consequences might be. 
The Persian soldiery were always fickle and easily led. 
Many of them still regarded him with awe and admira- 
tion. He might win them over to his side again. God 
only knew what might happen. And certainly All 
Akbar and she would suffer. The black girl had always 
been against them. She would be doubly against them 
now, and all her Indian devilments would be set to 
work again. 

Somehow or other she must be removed. Their very 
lives were no longer safe. 

Ali Akbar listened in silence. He felt that his 
sister's hatred misled her into exaggeration. He 



laughed inwardly at her credulity and superstition. 
Sitara, after all, was only a girl, and a girl whom they 
had easily duped before. Her return could not really 
be so dangerous. Nevertheless he felt uneasy about it. 
Great events often depended on small causes. There 
was no saying what mischief a woman's influence 
might do. It was very unlucky that she should have 
reappeared just now. Certainly it would not make 
Nadir better disposed towards him. 

He sympathised with his sister, and promised that 
he would help her again in getting rid somehow of her 
successful rival. That was always the thought upper- 
most in her mind. They had done it once, he said, and 
they would do it again. He did not tell her about Ali 
Kuli's letter, or the conspiracies of which he knew. 
She was not to be trusted. He could not be sure 
that she would welcome the success of a plot against 
Nadir's life. Much as she seemed to hate him, she 
might for the sake of her own position shrink from 
the prospect of his death. And if her own interests 
were involved, she was capable of any treachery. So 
he stuck to her side of the question. Inshallah, they 
would get rid of the girl somehow. He would work 
out another plan. 
The Shirazi went away happier than she had come. 
But when she had gone, Ali Akbar sat thinking it all 
over from a different point of view. What she had 
said about Sitara's influence was true enough in a 
sense. And he was now so deeply committed on the 
other side that he would find it hard to extricate 
himself. Better go through with it now. The sooner 
matters came to a head the better. He would set to 
work next day and push things on. Ali Kuli's letter 
was a grand card to play. 


He poured out another goblet of Shiraz. 

*Aho! What a fool I was ever to mix myself up 
with these tyrants and murderers. Ali Kuli will be 
just as bad as the other — worse, very likely. Curse 
them all ! Why was I not a dervish ? ' 



The next morning Nadir went to his Diwan Khaneh as 
usual. With astonishment and intense relief those 
who were in attendance saw again the Nadir they had 
almost forgotten. He rode up with an unclouded face, 
and as he took his seat on his takht he acknowledged 
their obeisances with his old cheery salute instead of 
the gloomy scowl to which they had become accus- 
tomed. He went through his work in his usual quick, 
decided way, but without any of the outbursts of rage 
which had made him a terror to all about him. He 
detected a frightened wretch in a lie, and let him go 
with a contemptuous smile. And when they brought 
before him some men accused of concealing their 
property to evade the exactions of his tax-gatherers, 
he contented himself with imposing a fine instead of 
some horrible mutilation. 

Holding Sitara in his arms that morning, he had 
pressed her to tell him what gift in the world he could 
bring her, and she had dared to answer : ' Promise me 
that no one shall suffer death or sorrow to-day.' And 
he had promised. 

The people looked at one another and murmured 
their astonishment. 

* It is wonderful,' they said. * What has happened ? 
What good news has come to him? It is like old 


He dismissed his Durbar soon after noon, and rode 
back with a look on his face that men had hardly seen 
for years; and on a thousand faces around him his 
happiness was reflected. 

But Ali Akbar, borne away to his house in his takht 
i ravan, said to himself : * It is too late. If he had 
always been like this I would never have gone against 
him. Afsos, afsos. What a pity it is. He is worth a 
hundred of Ali Kuli. But it will not last. To-morrow 
he will be a mad Shaitan again, torturing and killing. 
It is too late.' 

That evening, after dark, there was a gathering 
at Ali Akbar's house. All who came were trusted 
adherents of the Persian party, mullas and seyyids, 
descendants of the Prophet, in voluminous turbans of 
white or dark blue, and some Persian officers of the 

As the kalians went round they began to talk of the 

*What does it mean?' one of the soldiers said. 'I 
was at the Diwan Khaneh to-day, and he was as he 
used to be in the old times before he went mad, and 
took us to be shot down by those cursed Lesghis. The 
Kizlbash are all talking about it. They say his brain 
has got cool, and that there are good times coming 

The Mulla Bashi took the kalian from his mouth, and 
blew out a cloud of smoke, contemptuously. 

* Truly you men of the sword are wise,' he said with 
an evil sneer. * Cannot you see that it is all a trick? 
Only yesterday he was cursing you all for cowards and 
traitors. He means to get the Kizlbash off their guard, 
and then he will fall upon you with his Afghans and 
Uzbegs and slaughter every Persian in the army.' 


He turned to Ali Akbar. ' Have I not spoken the 
truth ? You know what he means to do.' 

Ali Akbar looked sad. 'I fear it is true. I have 
often heard him say when he was angry that he 
wished he could cut the throat of every Persian in 
Ir^n. And lately I have seen signs that he is thinking 
over some deep plan. I am trying to find out all about 
it. Meanwhile the Kizlbash should be on their guard, 
and not let themselves be deceived.' 

There was an outburst of curses. When it was over 
Ali Akbar spoke again. 

* I have something to tell you,' he said. ' You all 
know that Ali Kuli was a friend of Reza Khan, and 
that he has long been disgusted by the Shah's tyranny. 
He is a friend to all Persians.' 

* Yes,' the Mulla Bashi said. ' Every one knows that. 
He is just and merciful, and has always been our 
friend. Our hope is in him.' 

* Listen. I know what is in his heart. He cannot 
bear the Shah's tyranny any longer, and is ready to 
declare himself. He has received an order to come in, 
but has sent excuses ; and he only wants to be sure 
that the Persians are with him, to defy the Shah 
openly. I have told you that there is a plot forming 
to slaughter us all. I expect to get proof of it in a day 
or two. If I do, will the Kizlbash show they are men 
and strike before the plot is ready, or will they let the 
Afghans cut their throats like sheep ? ' 

There was a fierce murmur among his hearers, and 
one of them, Musa Beg, who had lost his ears at 
Charjui, took up the challenge. He had now risen to 
be a sort of Quartermaster-General of the Persian 
troops, but he hated Nadir with a deadly hatred. 

* The Kizlbash will show whether they are cowards,' 



he said. ' Their hearts are burning, and if we can give 
them proof of the plot, they will not leave an Afghan 
alive. Did they not scatter the Afghans before, like 
lions driving deer ? I swear by the mother that bore 
me that they are Rustems. Every one of them is 
worth ten Afghan dogs. Give them the proof and you 
will see. Meanwhile I will prepare them.' 

' I can answer for my men,' another said. 

'And I.' 

' And I. Only give us proof. There are some who 
are still unwilling to go against the Shah, though they 
hate the Afghans. If we get proof of the plot no one 
will hold back.' 

* And what will they do ? ' the MuUa Bashi said. 

' What will they not do ? They will spare none— not 
one, whoever he may be.' 

'Afrin! Will they dare to do what is necessary? 
It is not the Afghans who are planning this devil's 

The soldiers looked at one another. Then Musa Beg 
answered for them. 

* The Kizlbash are not fools. They will strike at the 
head, and the arms will fall.' 

There was a moment's silence. Ali Akbar's face had 
grown pale. 

' I am not a man of the sword,' he said. * It is not for 
me to mix myself up with these things. I can only 
tell you what I know, and you must do what you 
think best. But for God's sake be careful.' 

The Mulla Bashi sneered again. *Give us the 
proof,' he said. ' We shall know what to do.' 

The meeting broke up soon afterwards, with many 
oaths and vows of secrecy. The Mulla Bashi and 
Musa Beg met again before the night was over. It 


was settled between them that the story of the plot 
should be carefully circulated among the leaders of 
the Kizlbash, and that as soon as proof could be found 
to convince the wavering, a picked body of men 
should rush Nadir's quarters at night, and put him 
to death. 

But proof must be found as soon as possible. If 
Nadir showed signs of changing his ways, the Kizlbash 
might be difficult to manage. Among the men and 
the subordinate officers he was less hated than among 
the leaders. 



Meanwhile Nadir had gone back to the palace, and 
contrary to his custom, had spent the afternoon in the 
women's quarters. 

He would have found it hard in any case to keep 
away from Sitara, but the night before she had 
resolutely put off * till to-morrow ' any mention of his 
many troubles ; and in the pathetic solitude of absolute 
power, he was longing to talk over with the one being 
whom he knew to be perfectly faithful to him, the 
difficulties by which he was surrounded. He still 
trusted the Agha Bashi, but the Agha Bashi was too 
much afraid of him to speak plainly, and he felt that 
he was alone. 

Nadir did not deceive himself about the state of 
affairs. Although his information was not as good as 
it had been, he was too clear-headed not to know that 
he was in danger. The widespread revolts of the past 
few years would have been warning enough if he had 
needed warning, but in truth he needed none. He 
knew that his exactions and cruelties had made the 
Persians hate him as much as he hated them, and that 
among his own people he had hardly one trustworthy 
friend. He saw that his troops were weary of war, and 
that all except the foreign mercenaries were dis- 
contented, if not disloyal. In the gloom and misery of 
the last few years he had thrown prudence to the 


winds, and had indulged, with a desperate recklessness 
of consequences, every passion of the moment. But 
in the worst paroxysms of his frenzy, which at times 
seemed very like actual madness, he saw clearly 
enough the results of his acts. It was remorse and 
despair rather than over-confidence that drove him to 
his worst excesses. Doubtless he had been over-con- 
fident. He had trusted too much to the terror of his 
name, and to the power of brain and will of which he 
could not help being conscious ; but if he had been less 
unhappy he would have been less fierce. 

Now he felt that the toils were closing round him, 
and that the future was very dark. Sitara's return 
had been like a gleam of sunlight breaking through 
the clouds. It had given him fresh hope and strength. 
But as he rode back to the palace the gloom was 
gathering again. In spite of the joy and hope she had 
brought him, he knew that he would have to exert all 
his powers if he was to prevail against the thickening 
ranks of his enemies. 

And when he was with her again, the news she 
brought him was not good. She had determined that 
at all costs she would open his eyes to his danger, and 
try to make him see that he could escape it only by 
going back to his old ways, and conciliating all whom 
he could still hope to conciliate. At all costs she 
would save him from himself. Boldly and unsparingly, 
with love in her eyes, and love in her caressing hands, 
but with words that could not be misunderstood, she 
told him all she had seen and heard. She spoke 
of the wasted country and deserted villages ; of the 
swarms of wretched men, blinded or mutilated by his 
orders, who begged on the streets and highways ; of 
the horrible pyramids of rotting heads that had 


risen all over Persia ; of the disorder that was spread- 
ing everywhere ; of the thousands of desolate women 
who called upon Heaven night and day to avenge their 
wrongs; of the children lisping curses on his name. 
She told him of the murmuring among his soldiery ; 
of the rumoured conspiracies among his highest 
officials ; of the belief among the people that those of 
his own blood were no longer to be trusted. Even 
Ali Kuli, she said, whom he had treated like a favourite 
son, was believed to be disloyal. 

And to it all Nadir listened in silence, gazing before 
him with a face of stone, making no defence. He 
knew that all she said was true, and he knew she 
loved him so well that, in spite of all, she had come 
back to share his danger, to die with him if need be. 

His strange silence and gentleness cut her to the 
heart, and she held fast in hers the hand that had once 
struck her down, pressing her face and her lips 
upon it. 

* Oh ! my Lord,' she said, ' forgive me for speaking 
as I have. I know how they treated you long ago, 
and I hate them for it. I know how ungrateful they 
have been. They have deserved their punishment. 
But as you are great, be merciful. They have suffered 
enough. Be merciful now henceforward, and all will 
be well again; and you will be beloved by all and 
happy as you used to be. That is all I care for. That 
is why I speak.' 

Nadir was silent still, gazing before him with a stony 

' My Lord,' she said in sudden fear. * Will you not 
speak to me ? Have I said too much ? ' 

He turned towards her, and she saw in his eyes a 
look of misery and despair. He lifted the hair from 


her temple, and gazed at the scar that she would never 
lose. Then with a groan he threw up his hands and 
covered his face. 

* Oh my God ! my God ! I am rightly punished. 
First Reza Khan, my son, and then you — the only one 
who was true to me, the only one who tried to 
save him.' 

And then Sitara saw what no woman who has seen 
it ever forgets, the dreadful agony of a strong man's 
tears. She threw her arms round him in remorse and 
terror, soothing and imploring. A moment, and the 
storm had swept over him, leaving him calm again, 
but the look of despair was still on his face. 

He spoke quietly now. * I know that all you have 
said is true. If I had listened to you before, all would 
have been well. But now it is too late. I have gone 
too far to go back. I know the Persians. If I show 
them kindness now they will think it comes from fear. 
It is too late.' 

She argued with him eagerly, passionately, telling 
him there were many who were true to him still ; that 
they would rally round him gladly ; that the Kizlbash 
had never forgotten his victories; all she could 
think of to change his conviction; but he shook 
his head. 

* Little one, do not deceive yourself. There is no one 
true but Ahmed Khan and his Afghans. I must rely 
on them. Even Ali Kuli, my brother's son, who has 
always been like a son in my eyes, even he has turned 
against me, and if he has gone, who else will be 
faithful ? I ordered him to come in, and he has sent 
excuses, saying he has not yet subdued the rebels. I 
received his answer to-day. What you have heard of 
him is true, no doubt. I half believed in his excuses. 



He has never failed me before, and he is the son of 
my brother Ibrahim. Now I know. It is too late.' 

As a last hope of persuading him, Sitara asked him 
to call in the Agha Bashi. 

* As you will,' Nadir said, ' but it is useless. He does 
not understand.' 

The Agha Bashi came, and supported her as far as 
he dared, and Nadir received his advice without re- 
sentment. But he was evidently not persuaded. 

Still, in spite of all, Sitara fell asleep that night with 
hope in her heart. She had been terrified to see Nadir 
shaken and unmanned. But his weakness had been 
momentary, and he had shown that he understood his 
mistakes. He would yet go back to his old ways, and 
all would be well. 



For the next few days it seemed as if she were 

Some of the old gloom had come back to Nadir's face, 
but it was no longer what it had been. Though he 
believed it was too late, he tried to follow her advice 
as far as possible. His temper was more under control. 
His punishments were less fierce and cruel. Those 
about him saw that his mood was changed. A few of 
them rejoiced to see it ; most of them distrusted him. 

* It will not last,' they said with Ali Akbar. * He will 
soon begin again.' 

And Ali Akbar himself, committed now to Ali Kuli, 
and spurred on by his fears, was casting about him for 
some means of bringing the conspiracy to a head. 

At this time, after a few days' stay in Meshed, Nadir 
broke up his standing camp, and moved out again, with 
the bulk of his force, towards the north-west. A colony 
of Kurds who had been settled in the neighbourhood 
had been giving trouble, and he suspected them of 
being in league with his nephew against him. He had 
always acted on the principle that in war secrecy and 
surprise are the foundation of success. He now 
resolved to attack and destroy the Kurds before they 
could do serious mischief, and he resolved to do it 
himself. The Kizlbash should see that he was still the 
Nadir of old days, that his right hand had not forgotten 


its cunning. He would strike one of those swift and 
sudden blows which had done so much in the past to 
build up the terror of his name. 

The resolve once taken Nadir worked out his arrange- 
ments with characteristic promptitude and thorough- 

A strong body of Afghan and Kizlbash cavalry was 
to move out at sunset to a point he had selected ; and 
at daybreak next morning, when they had rested, he 
would gallop out and join them. A forced march 
during the next day and night would enable him to 
surround the Kurds, and at daybreak on the second 
morning he would surprise and exterminate them. 

The main force was to halt for a day, and to march 
on the second day to a place called Futtehabad, where 
it was to await his return. Riding in fast, he would be 
in Futtehabad the same night. The Kurk was to 
remain with the main force at headquarters. 

To make all clear Nadir wrote out his orders. It was 
only during the latter part of his life that he had 
learned to read and write. To the end his writing was 
bad, with none of the rounded elegance which the 
Persians admire. His rough, angular characters were 
a subject of derision to those about him. But they 
served his purpose, and at times, when he wanted to 
explain his meaning, he would take a sheet of paper 
and dash off in his swift, imperious way a rough sketch- 
map, which, however rough, was clear and to the 

That afternoon, as he was in his native province, and 
thoroughly knew the ground at Futtehabad, he drew 
out a plan of the new camp, showing the position to be 
taken up by each division of the force which would 
remain after deducting the troops he was taking him- 


self. Having done so he sent for Musa Beg, who also 
knew the ground thoroughly, and made him take down 
in writing the position of the several Persian contin- 
gents. He did not show Musa Beg the plan, but 
dictated the list of the Persian contingents in their 
proper order. 

Then he sent for Ahmed Khan and an Uzbeg chief 
who commanded the non- Persian parts of the force. 
He explained to them the numbers and composition of 
the troops which were to be detached, and the position 
to be taken up by each of the foreign contingents that 
remained. He warned them to hold those contingents 
in readiness for immediate action, and to keep a close 
watch upon the Persian part of the force. To make 
sure that they understood, Nadir made them each take 
a copy of his plan. When they had done so he dis- 
missed them, and having no use himself for the rough 
original, which was not a secret paper, crumpled it in 
his hand and tossed it aside. 

Neither Musa Beg nor Ahmed Khan was told what 
Nadir was going to do with the force he was taking 
away himself. In such cases he always kept his own 
counsel. He merely told them that he would start at 
dawn, and rejoin the camp at Futtehabad on the 
evening of the following day. 

At night, when all arrangements had been made, 
Nadir came as usual to Sitara's tent. He told her what 
he had told the others, and she begged hard to be 
allowed to go with him. In her happiness and her 
anxiety she dreaded the thought of being separated 
from him. But he refused. 

* No,' he said, * I am going to show the Kizlbash that 
I have not forgotten my old ways. We shall make a 
forced march, and perhaps have some rough work. I 


want the Kurk to march with the camp to Futtehabad. 
I shall meet you there the day after to-morrow. You 
must trust me and do what I tell you. If I could take 
you I would, but I cannot.' 

Much against her wishes, but obedient as ever, she 
answered that his will was her law. But the whole 
thing disturbed her. 

' You know best, my Lord,' she said. * If I shall be in 
your way I must stay with the Kurk, but my Lord, 
forgive me for speaking, is it safe just now? God 
knows what the Persians are thinking of.' 

Nadir laughed. * There is no cause for fear, little 
one. Ahmed Khan knows what I feel, and is accus- 
tomed to watching the Persians, who will not dare to 
give trouble. And I shall be with trusty Afghans. Do 
not fear for me.' 

He seemed so eager, and so much more confident than 
he had seemed of late, that she felt reassured. 



Yet Sitara's instinct was not at fault. It was for 
Nadir's enemies an opportunity which was not to be 
thrown away, and they saw it at once. The same 
night, while Nadir was talking to her, the Mulla 
Bashi came to Ali Akbar's tent. He broke into the 
matter at once. 

* It is reported,' he said, * that the Shah, curses upon 
him, will march early to-morrow morning, and will be 
away from camp two days. Is it true ? ' 

* Yes. A force has left camp already for a night 
march. He is to ride out at daybreak and overtake 
it. He has just given me orders.' 

* Are you to go with him ? ' 

* No. This is one of his old expeditions. God knows 
what shaitani he has in hand. I am to stay with the 
camp, and meet him at Futtehabad on the third 

* Alhemdulillah. Thanks be to God ! Then our chance 
has come. Those soldier fools who were here last 
night are hard at work frightening each other and the 
Kizlbash. The Shah will be out of reach, and that 
Afghan hog, Ahmed Khan, will not understand. Now 
find proof of the plot you know of.' 

Ali Akbar hesitated. He was not a brave man, and 
he had many times repented at intervals of having 
gone so deep into the conspiracy. 


' I have found nothing yet,' he said with an anxious 
air. *I cannot tell whether I shall find anything so 

A look of contempt came over the Mulla Bashi's 

* Proof is easy to find, and there is danger in too 
much caution. News of what is going on will reach 
him sooner or later, and then God help those who are 
suspected. If we wish to save our own heads it is 
better not to delay. Your head is not too safe in any 
case, for he does not love you, and some of the soldier 
fools are sure to talk.' 

The Mulla Bashi remained an hour longer, and 
when he left the tent he had worked upon Ali Akbar's 
fears with decisive effect. Ali Akbar had promised to 
find the proof required. 

Fortune played into his hands. The Mulla Bashi 
had hardly left him when he was told that a Georgian 
* ghulam ' or slave of Nadir's wished to see him. The 
Georgian had the reckless courage of his race, and 
Nadir had taken him into service as a reward for an 
act of bravery in the field. For a time he had been 
faithful, but when Nadir's nephew, Ali Kuli, became 
disaffected, the man had been corrupted through the 
agency of a Georgian girl, and now he was a paid spy 
of Ali Akbar's. He came that night to report upon 
the conference which had taken place between Nadir 
and the foreign commanders. He said he had been on 
duty at Nadir's tent, and had managed to overhear 
something of what passed. Nadir had spoken in a low 
voice, and he could not catch much that was said, but 
it was something about the Persians. Nadir had 
warned the foreigners against them. Finally, Nadir 
had given the foreigners a paper to copy. After they 


left, Nadir had come out of the tent with the paper in 
his hand, and then had crumpled it up and thrown it 
on the floor. Thinking it might be of some use the 
Georgian had picked it up, and found it was in the 
Shah's writing. He had therefore brought it to Ali 

A glance at the paper was enough to show Ali Akbar 
that it was of no value. But as he sat holding it in 
his hand a sudden thought flashed into his quick brain. 
He gave the Georgian a gold * tuman.' 

* You have done good service,' he said. * If you are 
faithful and do what I tell you, and all goes well, I will 
make the tuman ten. But you must be faithful, and 
do all the service you can.' 

The Georgian's eyes glistened. 

* I will do faithful service,' he said. 

* Khaile khub : very well. Now listen and I will 
tell you how you can earn the money.' 

The Georgian listened, and before he went away he 
had learnt what he had to do. The lesson took a long 
time, but it was thoroughly mastered in the end. 

After he had gone Ali Akbar sat for hours alone with 
pen and paper, writing and rewriting a list of names. 
When the list was finished he compared it letter by 
letter with the writing on the Shah's sketch-plan. 
The two were exactly alike. Any one who knew 
Nadir's handwriting would have sworn that both were 

Ali Akbar burnt his rough drafts, and sat for a 
minute or two with a look of satisfaction on his face. 
Then he took the sketch-plan itself, and drew some 
arrows between the names of the foreign contingents 
and the names of the Persian contingents. The arrow- 
heads pointed towards the Persian names. 


On the following day, after Nadir's departure, All 
Akbar went to see the MuUa Bashi and remained 
with him some time. 

The same evening the leaders of the Persian party 
assembled in the Mulla Bashi's tent. There was a 
feeling of unrest and expectation among them, for 
each had been summoned verbally by a confidential 
servant, and warned not to fail, as there was important 
business to discuss. Priests and soldiers alike felt that 
a crisis was imminent. They sat looking at one 
another with questioning eyes, speaking little and in 
low tones. When they had been together a few 
minutes there was a slight stir at the doorway, and 
Ali Akbar entered the room. He saluted them with 
his usual pleasant smile and manner, but his face 
was very pale, and he looked furtively about him 
as he took his seat on some cushions which were 
disposed on the floor at the Mulla Bashi's right 

There was a moment's silence, a silence of extreme 
tension, and then the Mulla Bashi spoke a few words. 
He said that Ali Akbar had something to tell them, 
and he earnestly begged all present to hear it in 
silence. If any one had any questions to ask they 
would be fully answered when Ali Akbar had finished, 
but there must be no interruption. His hearers stroked 
their beards and turned to Ali Akbar. 

It was with a very low voice, and hesitating manner, 
that he began to speak. His hand played nervously 
with the corner of a cushion beside him, and his first 
words were hardly audible. He told them that a 
Georgian slave in Nadir's household had come to him 
that morning, and had told him what had passed at 
the interview between the Shah and the foreign 


leaders the day before. The man, he said, was well 
known to him and thoroughly trustworthy. He had 
been on duty in Nadir's tent, and had managed to 
conceal himself within hearing. 

There was a low stir among Ali Akbar's hearers. He 
paused, and looking round him he saw that they were 
following his words with eager interest. His voice 
became firmer. 

Nadir, he said, in slow, deliberate tones, had an- 
nounced to Ahmed Khan and the Uzbeg that he had 
discovered the existence of a conspiracy against his 
life among the Persians, and had decided, if the 
Afghans and Tartars would stand by him, to put to 
the sword every Persian in his camp. 

Here a low murmur arose. The MuUa Bashi held 
up his hand, and Ali Akbar went on. 

' After that,' he said, * the Shah promised that if the 
foreigners carried out his wishes all the property of 
the Persians and all the women should be distributed 
among them.' 

Again a murmur broke out, this time a fierce 
murmur of curses and threats. Again the Mulla 
Bashi raised his hand. 

*Then,' Ali Akbar went on, *the Shah called upon 
them to swear that they would carry out the massacre. 
They swore by Allah and the Prophet. Their faces 
were full of joy. The Shah then said that to disarm 
suspicion, he was going away, but would return on 
the evening of the second day, when the camp would 
be in Futtehabad. During the night the foreigners 
would all get under arms. A little before dawn a 
rocket would give the signal, and the foreign troops 
would fall upon the Persians according to a plan he 
had worked out. 


* The Shah then produced a paper in his own hand, 
showing the plan of the camp, the places of the several 
contingents, and the portion of the Persian force which 
each contingent was to attack.' 

AH Akbar's hearers were leaning forward with 
angry eyes. There was not a sign of doubt on their 
faces. Ali Akbar drew a small packet from the 
breast of his coat and slowly unrolled the muslin in 
which it was wrappped. 

' Here,' he said, * is the plan. You all know the 
Shah's writing. In a moment I will show it to each of 
you. But listen. There is something more. 

' When the foreigners had seen the paper the Shah 
told them to make copies of it, and they did so. 
Then he took out another paper, also in his own 

Ali Akbar paused again, and saw that all were 
watching him with intense excitement. 

' Af SOS ! Alas that a Shah of Persia should be so 
faithless and ruthless ! This second paper contained a 
list of names. The Shah went over every name with 
the foreigners and told them each man on the list was 
his special enemy, and that not one must escape. You 
will see that the name of every one present to-night 
is on the list. There are two names with a mark 
against them. These are the names of men who have 
lately been executed by the Shah's orders. One is the 
Bakhtiari chief who was strangled two days ago.' 

The muttered curses broke out again. There were 
scowling faces and clenched hands. *Khtin Khor. 
Blood-drinker. Tyrant. Murderer. Faithless Turko- 
man dog!' 

*I have nearly done,' Ali Akbar said. *When the 
foreigners had gone the Shah sent for a box which is 


always kept by the Agha Bashi in the Anderun. The 
Georgian saw him put the papers into it. I have long 
wanted to see into that box, and at last only a few 
days ago, by the help of a woman in the Anderun who 
is in love with the Georgian, he got a key made to 
open it. Last night he gave the key to the woman. 
He dared not take the paper then lest the Shah should 
want it before starting this morning, but when the 
Shah was leaving camp and the Agha Bashi was 
outside with him, the woman took the chance. By 
the mercy of God she was successful.' 

Ali Akbar looked on the faces of his hearers. This 
was the least likely part of his story. But the 
Persians in their anger and suspicion were ready to 
accept anything he told them. There was no sign of 

*Now,' Ali Akbar said, 'here are the papers. Let 
every one examine them and see for himself. Musa 
Beg can say whether the order of the Persian troops is 
correct. I know the Georgian and believe he has 
spoken truth, alas that I should have to say it ! 
But if any one doubts, he is here to answer any 

The papers were handed round. The Mulla Bashi, 
who received them first, examined them carefully. 

'There is no doubt,' he said. *It is the Shah's 
writing. No one can mistake it.' 

Musa Beg said the same, with a curse. 

One man after another looked and agreed. There 
were some exclamations of astonishment, but none of 
doubt. Among those present were two or three who 
had till then been regarded as waverers. They had 
no doubts now. There was only one feeling — rage 
and hatred towards their treacherous master. 


* Shall I call the Georgian ? ' Ali Akbar asked. There 
was a murmur of dissent. 

* What is the use ? It is all clear enough. He can 
say no more.' 

Then the Mulla Bashi spoke. 'There is one thing 
that astonishes me. If there was a man among us 
who still trusted the blood-drinker, and would not 
listen to a word of reason, it was Saleh Beg of the 
bodyguard. Why is his name on the list, and the 
name of his father ? ' 

The Mulla Bashi knew well enough, but the 
question seemed natural. Saleh Beg was young and 
full of soldierly enthusiasm. He was of Nadir's own 
tribe, the Afshar, and devoted to his great master, 
who had given him command of the bodyguard and 
made him Intendant of the Household. What possible 
reason could Nadir have for putting his name on the 

Hasan Khan, of the Six Thousand, also an Afshar, 
answered the question. 

' It is wonderful,' he said, ' but the Shah is mad and 
a devil. For some weeks Saleh Beg has not been in 
favour. He was always a fool, and when the Bakhtiari 
was going to be killed, Saleh Beg spoke for him.' 

' That is quite enough,' another said. ' The Shah has 
killed many a man for less.' 

The rest agreed. No one was safe now. The Shah 
took dislikes for nothing, and a moment's dislike meant 

' Then,' the Mulla Bashi said, ' let us send for Sdleh 
Beg. If he once sees the truth, there will not be a 
waverer left. We cannot send for all on the list. It 
would take too long. But Saleh Beg is at the Shah's 
tents close by.' 


*And if he does not understand?' some one said. 

* He is a hot-headed fool, and might betray us 

There was a pause and then Musa Beg laughed. 

* Leave that to me,' he said. * What is Saleh Beg ? If 
he chooses to be a fool, well. But I swear by the 
mother who bore me that he will not have the chance 
of betraying us.' 

The others understood. ' Khaile khub,' they said : 

* very good. Whose dog is Saleh Beg ? ' 

In a few minutes Saleh Beg appeared. He was a 
soldierly-looking man of about thirty, in the white 
uniform of the Six Thousand, with a golden axe, the 
badge of the bodyguard, chased upon his cuirass. He 
walked into the tent with his head up, and a look of dis- 
pleasure on his face. Then he saluted the gathering 
respectfully, and remained standing. 

* What is it your Honours want of me ? ' he asked. 
The Mulla Bashi answered him. 

' Saleh Beg, do you know the Shah's handwriting?' 

* Chira. Why not ? Am I not the Shah's servant ? ' 

* Are these papers in the Shah's hand ? ' 
Saleh Beg glanced at the papers. 

* Of that there is no doubt,' he said, handing them 

* Khaile khub. Now listen. Those papers were 
given to the Afghan Ahmed Khan and the other 
foreigners yesterday. They are to massacre all the 
Persians in camp to-morrow night. Those whose 
names are on the list are to be killed first. The 
foreigners have special orders that not one is to escape. 
Your name is there, and your father's.' 

Sdleh Beg started, and his face flushed. ' It is not 
true. It is a trick. We have eaten the Shah's salt. 


and he knows that we are faithful.' He spoke bravely, 
but there was trouble and doubt in his face. 

*Was not the Bakhtiari faithful? And how many 
more of the Shah's faithful servants have you seen 
handed over to the Nasakchis? And was the Shah 
pleased with you when you defended the Bakhtiari? 
Afsos, afsos, but it is true. Will you see all your 
people butchered by the Afghans, and your women in 
the hands of Turkoman dogs ? ' 

Saleh Beg laid his hand on his sword with a fierce 
gesture. But he was not convinced. ' I do not believe 
it,' he said. ' It is a trick.' 

* Listen. The Shah promised them that all the 
women of the Persians should be distributed among 
them if they carried out his orders, and they swore to 
do it. Look round you and see who are here. All 
present know that it is true. Are we all fools to be 
deceived by a trick ? ' 

*It cannot be true. I was on duty when the 
foreigners came to the Shah's tent. There was nobody 
who could have heard what was said, and the 
foreigners would never have told the story.' 
' Was there no one on service at the door ? ' 
*No one but the Shah's ghulam, the Georgian. He 
would give his life for the Shah. No one could have 
got near without his seeing.' 

The Mulla Bashi looked at Ali Akbar, who left the 
tent. A minute later he returned with the Georgian. 
Saleh Beg gazed at them with a face of astonish- 

* Great God ! ' he said. 

The Mulla Bashi turned to the ghulam. 

' Tell us what you have to say.' 

The Georgian seemed ill at ease, and began his story 


in a hesitating voice, but like Ali Akbar he gathered 
confidence from the faces of his hearers. Saleh Beg 
listened in silence, but his eyes grew more and more 
excited. When the man had finished no one spoke, 
but all turned towards Saleh Beg. He stood a moment 
with white set face, gazing before him and seeing 
nothing. Suddenly he threw up his hands with a 
gesture of despair and a wild cry : 

* Allah ! Allah ! Traitor and murderer ! I have 
eaten his salt and I have been faithful. But in my 
heart I knew it all. I was mad and faithless to my 
own people. Now it is over. He shall die. I swear 
he shall die. Traitor and murderer ! Traitor and 
murderer ! ' 

He turned and was striding out, with rage and 
misery in his face. Musa Beg sprang up and stopped 
him. He mastered himself and came back. 

* Forgive me. I am mad. From this hour I am on 
the side of my own people. Tell me what you want. 
I am ready.' 

Then it was all settled. Nadir's plan of the camp 
showed that his tents would be pitched as usual in the 
centre of the force, with the Persians on one side and 
the foreign troops on the other. In the evening, when 
the troops had marched in, all the Kizlbash would be 
held ready to repel an attack. At midnight, if Nadir 
had arrived, seventy chosen men, led by Muhammad 
Khan, Commandant of the Six Thousand, would be 
in hiding near the network surrounding the Anderto. 
When all was quiet word would be brought out to 
them by Saleh Beg, who would show them how to 
avoid or rush the eunuch guard on duty, and Nadir 
would be killed. His fall would paralyse the foreigners, 
from whom there would be little to fear. 


If Nadir did not return to his tents the Persians 
would stand to their arms all night, and repel his 
attack whenever it came. But probably he would 
return as he had arranged, to disarm suspicion. 

When the gathering broke up all the details had been 
worked out. 



The next morning at daybreak, the great camp was 
astir, and with the quickness which came from 
long use, the troops formed up for the line of 

Sitara had slept little, for left alone again, she had 
begun thinking back over the occurrences of the last 
few days; and as the night wore on her thoughts 
became more and more anxious. She sought, and 
found, comfort in the remembrance of her meeting with 
Nadir, and of all he had been to her since. As long 
as she lived she could never lose him again. Yet she 
was anxious and troubled. She could not forget that 
there was discontent and disloyalty all round him. He 
seemed hopeless of regaining the ground he had lost. 
He was no longer confident in his star as he used to be. 
Fits of gloom and depression alternated with his 
stronger moods. Once she had seen him break 
down completely. She hoped and believed that if 
he could now refrain from the mad deeds which 
had made him hated he would in time be again 
the idol of his soldiery. But could he do so? Had 
he gone too far? Was it as he said, too late to 
go back ? 

When she mounted in the bright June morning to 
ride with the Kurk, some of the shadows of night 
passed away from her heart, but she was anxious still. 


Most of the way she rode by the side of the Agha 
Bashi ; and it was like old days, the days in which, as 
it seemed to her now, she had been so perfectly happy. 
But the negro was less cheerful than he used to be. 
His face, always sad, had now got a settled look of 
worry and apprehension. He tried to speak hopefully 
of Nadir's change of mood. 

'We have had some dark years, Khanum, but In- 
shallah, now that you have come back, all will go well. 

He sighed as he said it, but he had always had a trick 
of sighing. 

Before they reached camp, the Agha Bashi asked her 
whether she would object to changing tents with the 

* No,' she said. *But why do you wish it? She will 
be angry.' 

* I think it is better, Khanum, and her anger will do 
no harm.' 

* Very well.' 

But Sitara rode on in silence, thinking what it 

Early in the afternoon, the troops filed into their 
appointed places at Futtehabad. It was hot, and she 
lay in her tent waiting for sunset. 

* A few hours more and he will be here,' she said, and 
the thought made her happier. 

After sunset the Agha Bashi, who had gone out, 
came back to the Anderun, and asked to see her. He 
was looking depressed and nervous. 

'What is it, Agha Sahib?' she said. 'Nothing 
wrong ? ' 

'There is nothing wrong, Khfinum, and I may be 
foolish to speak at all. My heart has turned to water 


of late. I do not think it is anything. But, Khanum, 
I feel uneasy to-night.' 

*Why? What is it?' 

*I don't know, Khanum, and you must not be 
alarmed. But I have been to see Musa Beg and the 
Afghan. Things do not look as usual. Musa Beg's 
manner was not pleasant, and there is no " aram," no 
quiet, in the Persian camp. The troops seem restless. 
There is much moving about and talking. Ahmed 
Khan says some of the Kizlbash have seemed un- 
friendly all day. Nothing has happened. Maybe it is 
only that the Shah is absent. Would to God that he 
were here.' 

* Is Ahmed Khan on the watch ? ' 

*Yes, Khanum. You know how he hates the 
Persians. He is watching them carefully. He says 
they dare not move a finger, that his troops are all 
ready, and that at the least sign of trouble from the 
Persians he would sweep the camp, and make flour of 

* Then what can they do ? ' 

*God knows. I cannot say. You know the stories 
about Ali Kuli. They might march away in the night 
and join him.' 

* They would have gone last night if they had meant 
to go, and it would do little harm if they did. But 
they would not dare. And there must be many still 
faithful to their salt.' 

The negro sighed. *Not many, Khdnum. A few 

Fear for Nadir himself was always uppermost in 
her mind. ' The Guard is trustworthy at least ? ' 

* Khdnum, I think the men are faithful enough. But 
many of the officers of the Six Thousand are discon- 



tented and dangerous. Muhammad Khan, the Com- 
mandant, was always a friend of Ali Kuli. A few 
weeks ago the Shah was suspicious of the Six 
Thousand, and I suggested pitching his tents among 
the Afghans, but he said I was a fool— that it would 
seem as if he were afraid, and would make bad blood. 
The bodyguard are picked men, and mostly Afshars, 
as you know, but they are few.' 

* There is Saleh Beg? The Shah trusts him, I 

' Yes, Khanum. Saleh Beg is faithful, but he is only 
one man. I have spoken to him, and he will keep a 
strong party of the bodyguard on duty all night 
just outside the Anderun, towards the Persian 

* I wish the Shah were back. No one will dare to 
give trouble then.' 

The negro sighed again. 'Inshallah,' he said. 
' Inshallah.' 

The evening passed quietly, but to Sitara, waiting 
alone in her tent, the hours seemed very long. At 
every sound from the Persian lines, every swell in the 
dull murmur which rose from the great host camped 
around her, she listened with straining ears. The 
Agha Bashi's nervousness seemed to have infected i 

' He was always timid,' she said to herself. * There is 
no real cause for fear. The Afghans are all ready, and 
the Persians can do nothing.' 

But she could not shake off the feeling of doubt and 

' If he would only come,' she kept saying to herself. 

Two hours before midnight there was a sudden noise 
outside ; a shouting and trampling of horses, and sharp 



words of command. She sprang up with a beating 
heart. One of her women came into the tent. 

* The Shah has come back, Khanum.' 

' Thank God,' she said. * At last ! ' 

The woman looked at her in surprise, and smiled. 
What a love-sick fool the Indian was ! 



Meanwhile Ali Akbar and his sister had been acting 
after their kind. 

The night before, when the conspiracy of which he 
was the moving spirit had come to a head, Ali Akbar 
had been seized with a sudden access of terror. 

What would happen if some one among the con- 
spirators had been a spy of Nadir's ? Or if one man's 
nerve failed before the fatal hour came round, and 
made him betray the rest? Or if the attempt on 
Nadir's life were to miscarry ? Any one of these things 
was likely enough, and if all did not go right, what 
would be his chance of escape ? 

Lying in his tent during the night, these thoughts 
came to him with ever-increasing force, and before 
morning he was cursing his folly for having been led 
away. He had committed himself hopelessly. His life 
was in the hands of any one among a score of mullas 
and soldiers. Lured on by vanity, and pride in his 
cleverness, he had been bold and confident. Now he 
was cold and faint with fear. God, what a fool he had 
been ! 

He slept a little at last, after emptying two flasks of 
Shiraz, and dreamt that he was being strangled in 
front of the Diwan Khaneh, while Nadir looked on and 

When he woke, he lay waiting for daylight, while 


the sounds of the camp began to stir around him. 
The servant lying outside the tent door sat up and 
yawned, and stretched himself. *Ah-h-h,' the man 
muttered in a voice of sleepy discontent, * there is but 
one God.' 

Ali Akbar called to him, and asked for a cup of wine. 

When he had drunk it he felt a little better, but his 
mind was made up. He would get away from the 
camp in the evening, before Nadir returned, and await 
the event in safety. If all went well he could come 
back. If not, he would make his way to Ali Kuli's 
camp or elsewhere. The soldier fools would bungle 
the whole thing in all probability, and anyhow he was 
better out of the way. There might be fighting with 
those mad devils of Afghans. God knows what might 

And his sister, should he take her with him? He 
pondered over that question in his takht i ravan, on 
the march to Futtehabad, with the result that he 
decided to say nothing to her. She could not be 
trusted to keep the secret, and she would hamper his 
movements. Besides, Nadir might find out that she 
was gone, and suspect them. No, he would go alone. 
After all, she could take very good care of herself. 
She was not likely to come to any harm. 

The Shirazi made the march on horseback, with the 
Kurk, cursing Sitara and the Agha Bashi at intervals, 
and Nadir. When she arrived at Futtehabad she was 
tired and out of temper. Her irritation was not 
lessened by finding that the Indian woman had been 
given her tent. 

The Pish Khaneh had begun to arrive that morning 
early, before daybreak. The camels had straggled 
during the night march, and a smart young ^ferrash,' 


or tent pitcher, who had charge of a portion of the 
Anderun, had come in before the rest. He pitched 
his tents, and then feeling tired, he selected a quiet 
corner, curled himself up in his barani, rain coat, 
and went to sleep. He slept long and heavily. When 
he woke the sun was high, and he found to his 
horror that the rest of the tents had been pitched, 
that some of the eunuchs and slave girls had arrived, 
and that he was a prisoner. If he tried to get out 
now he must be seen, and that meant death. His 
only chance was to lie still and hope he might remain 
concealed until the Anderun broke up again next 

But his hope was soon at an end. In the afternoon, 
after the Kurk had marched in, the Shirazi came 
wandering through the dark passage where he lay, 
and her quick eyes caught sight of the long bundle in 
the corner. 

Thinking it was a slave girl asleep, and feeling 
irritable, she walked up and touched the figure with 
her foot, telling the girl sharply to get up. As there 
was no answer she bent down, and twitched away the 

Another woman might have screamed at the un- 
expected sight of a man's face in the Anderun, but the 
Shirazi's nerves were proof against most things, and 
his look of terror put her at her ease. The next 
instant he was kissing her feet, and imploring her in 
a whisper to hear him before she betrayed him. ' For 
God's sake hear me, Khanum. I am innocent. For 
God's sake, Khanum. Az barde Khudd.' 

It was an adventure, and the Shiriizi liked adventures. 
Moreover, the man was young and good-looking. Even 
as he grovelled at her feet she could not help noticing 


his handsome face and slight, athletic figure. She 
heard his story and laughed. 'Stay quiet,' she said. 
' I will get you off. Wait till I come back.' 

In another minute she had brought him a woman's 
cloak, and without meeting any one on the way she 
smuggled him safely into her own tent. Against one 
side of it were two camel trunks containing her 
travelling wardrobe. Their curved backs, shaped to 
fit a camel's body, stood out from the tent wall, and 
left a tunnel along the foot of it. With the help of 
one or two rugs and cloaks thrown over them, they 
made an excellent hiding-place. 

The ferrash crept in behind the trunks, thanking 
heaven for his deliverance, and the Shirazi threw 
herself down on some cushions near his head, and 
laughed till she cried. 

In the course of the afternoon, the two had a long 
and interesting conversation, the f errdsh proving to be, 
when reassured in mind, a young man of considerable 
tact and humour. Like many Persians of his class he 
could quote poetry with freedom and point, which 
appealed to the Shirazi's cultivated taste, and his 
manners were admirable. 

Before long they were on the best of terms, and in 
the evening, with the help of the Shirdzi's confidential 
maid-servant, who enjoyed the whole thing nearly as 
much as her mistress, they had a very pleasant supper 
together. It was dangerous, no doubt, but it was an 
adventure after the Shirazi's own heart. 

She was eating sweetmeats and enjoying the conver- 
sation of her ferrash, who had drunk several cups of 
Shirdz, and was making himself most agreeable, when 
the noise of the Shah's return startled them both. In 
a moment the ferrdsh was back in his hiding-place. 


and the maid had removed from the carpet all signs of 
the feast. 

It was fortunate for them that they lost no time. 
Things had hardly resumed their usual appearance 
when the curtain was suddenly raised, and Nadir 
himself walked into the tent. 

With all her readiness and courage the Shirazi could 
not restrain a low cry of terror. For an instant she 
thought all was discovered, and her heart stood still 
with the fear of a horrible death. But Nadir's first 
word showed her that she was safe. 

* You ! ' he said with a frown, as she struggled to her 
feet. 'What are you doing here? Where is Sitara 
Khanum ? ' 

When she had shown him Sitara's tent, which had 
been her own, she cursed them both furiously, in spite 
of her relief. 

An hour or two later, as she was again sitting 
in conversation with her ferrdsh, the canvas above 
her head quivered to a sudden jerk, as some one 
tripped over a tent rope, and the next instant two 
men with drawn swords were within the curtain. 
For the second time that night she started up in 
deadly fear. Even in the dim lamp-light she knew 
them both, and one was Nadir's trusted follower, Sdleh 

She began to plead for her life. Sdleh Beg smiled 
contemptuously. ' Be quiet,' he whispered. * Where is 
the Shah?' 

' In the tent of the Indian woman.' 

' Where is it ? Come and show me.' 

* Mercy, mercy, for God's sake ! I swear I am innocent. 
I swear by the head of the Shah.' 

' Be silent, shameless one. You deserve death, but if 


you show me I will do nothing to you. My business is 
with him.' 

A suspicion of the truth flashed upon the Shirazi's 
mind, and with it came a thrill of joy. Her revenge 
would be sweet. 

' You will not tell him ? You swear by the Prophet 
that you will do me no harm ? You will let me go ? ' 

*I swear it. Show me, or, by God, I will kill you 

* I am ready. I will show you.' 

* The back of the tent, and be quiet. If you make a 
sound you are dead.' 

Saleh Beg signed to Musa to stay and watch the 
ferrash. Then he followed her. Near Sitara's tent 
they crouched in the darkness and listened. All was 
still. Nadir was sleeping. 

When they returned it was arranged that Musa 
should remain with the Shirazi, to see that neither she 
nor the ferrash gave the alarm, while Saleh Beg went 
back to bring up the rest of the band. 

He made his way to the spot where he had left 
them. There had been seventy. There were now 
twelve. The rest had disappeared. The waiting had 
been too much for their nerves. 

* What has happened ? ' Saleh Beg asked of their 
leader, Muhammad Khan, 

* What could I do ? One or two went ofP first, and 
then the rest all together. They were afraid of the 

* Cowards ! come on quickly, before they betray us.' 
Silently and swiftly the thirteen made their way to 

the Shirdzi's tent. Hardly were they safe inside it 
when they heard a quiet footfall coming from the 
opposite direction. Sdleh Beg looked cautiously out 



through the curtain at the doorway. It was the Agha 
Bashi keeping watch over his master. He stopped 
close by, listening, so close that Saleh Beg's hand 
tightened on his sword hilt. Then the negro turned 
and went slowly back. 



After her long waiting, Sitara had been surprised 
and distressed at hearing from her women that Nadir 
had gone to the Shirazi's tent. She was the more 
rejoiced when a minute later he raised her curtain 
and walked in. She welcomed him with shining 

* Did you think I was not coming ? ' he said. * I went 
into the tent of the Shirazi. Your places have been 
changed. Why have they done it ? ' 

' My Lord, I know nothing. The Agha Bashi wished 
it. She was not pleased.' 

*What a Shaitan she is. The sight of her face has 
become hateful to me.' 

'What is the Shirazi, my Lord? Do not let the 
thought of her trouble you. You are weary and want 

* Yes. We were on the march all yesterday and all 
last night, and I did not sleep ; and to-day I have ridden 
in fast.' 

* My Lord was successful as always ? ' 
Nadir looked tired and depressed. 

*We were too late. I do not understand it. I had 
told no one, not even you, where I was going. Yet 
some one must have sent warning. The Kurds have 
been giving trouble. I wanted to surprise them and 
punish them. We surrounded the settlement in the 


night, but when we advanced at daybreak we found 
the forts deserted. The Kurds had left lights burning 
to deceive us, but they were gone. My face has been 

'They knew they had deserved punishment, and 
were frightened when they heard the Shah was within 

* It is possible, but I fear there was some treachery. 
These Persian dogs have been playing me false as 
usual. Nothing goes right now.' 

His voice and eyes were weary, and Sitara hated to 
say anything that could depress him further. Yet 
she felt that she must warn him. 

*A11 will go well again. What are the Kurds? 
Cowardly thieves who ran away at the very thought 
of the Shah.' 

* The Kurds are nothing. But there is treachery on all 
sides. There is no rest for a King of Iran.' He sighed 
deeply. 'Ali Akbar is the worst of all, because he is 
the cleverest. He was not here to-night to receive 
me. I have noticed of late that he seems to keep out 
of my sight. He knew I was displeased with the 
Kurds, and he knows my ways. He may have guessed 
and given warning. By God ! if I find him out, his life 
will be short.' 

Nadir spoke fiercely now, and his eyes grew hard. 

' My Lord, have you seen the Agha Bashi since you 
came in ? ' 

'Yes. I did not speak to him. He always looks 
frightened and irritates me. Why do you ask ? ' 

* My Lord, he seems anxious to-night.' 

* He is always anxious. What is the matter ? ' 

' He is faithful, and thinks of the Shah day and night. 
I have told him it was nothing— that when the Shah 


came back all would be well, but he is troubled. He 
says the Persians seem restless, and more unfriendly 
to the Afghans. He thinks perhaps they are in doubt 
about Ali Kuli.' 
Nadir was silent for a minute. 

* Ali Kuli,' he said at last, ' Ali Kuli ! the son of my 
brother Ibrahim ! ' 

He put the thought aside. * The Persians hate the 
Afghans because the Afghans are faithful to me. And 
when I am not there they dare to show what they feel. 
Ahmed Khan was awaiting me when I rode in. He 
told me some of the dogs had shown insolence to-day, 
not openly, but after their manner. I wish he had 
killed a few of them.' 

' My Lord, I am sure the Kizlbash are faithful still. 
They remember your victories, and all will be well now.' 

' Inshallah ! But they are Shaitans, ungrateful and 

* The Afghans are watching them carefully ? ' 

'Yes — as always. God! that it should be needed. 
There is no peace for a King of Iran — but in his grave. 
I have not a friend, not one.' 

*0h! my Lord, you have thousands — hundreds of 
thousands. There is not a King in the world who is 
so great.' 

Nadir shook his head. * They fear me, yes. But how 
many can I trust ? ' He smiled bitterly. 

* Ahmed Khan, and the Agha Bashi, and you — an 
Afghan and a negro, and an Indian girl. And her I 
nearly killed.' 

His head dropped on his breast. She thought there 
were tears in his downcast eyes. His whole attitude 
was one of the deepest dejection. 

* You never meant to harm me, and you have made 


me perfectly happy now. My Lord, you are weary, 
and you have not eaten to-night.' 

' I ate something in the day. I cannot eat now.' 

' You are weary, and want sleep.' 

She got up and filled him a cup of Shiraz. 

' Now sleep. In the morning you will be rested, and 
all will be well.' 

She knelt by him, her hands wandering over his 
great limbs and shoulders with gentle pressure, till 
gradually he grew quiet and the lines faded from his 
face. His eyes closed. He opened them with a faint 
smile and kissed one of her caressing hands. 

'Jan i ma,' he said, *my life.' 

Long after he was asleep she knelt by him, watching 
him anxiously. His sleep was uneasy. At times he 
started, and his limbs twitched. Even in the dim light 
of the oil 'chiragh' she could see how grey he had 
become, and how his temples and cheeks had fallen. 
The huge frame was powerful as ever, but he looked 
old, worn and sad and old. 

Sitara had left him at last, and gone to sleep herself, 
when a hoarse cry from him woke her into sudden 
consciousness. He had started up with a face of 
horror, and seized his axe. 

' Great God ! ' he said, his eyes still wild. * Great God ! 
What a dream ! ' 

She was kneeling by his side again. 

' What is it ? Is anything wrong ? ' 

' No, thank God. It is nothing, only a dream.' 

He tried to laugh. ' I am like a child to-night. Go 
to sleep, little one. It is nothing.' 

But she saw that he was shaken and excited. 

*Tell me what it was. I cannot sleep unless you tell 


' It is nothing. You remember I told you once long 
ago how the messenger came and took me away to 
Ali ? And Ali gave me a sword and told me to watch 
over Persia ? ' 

' I remember.* 

* I dreamt that the messenger came again and made 
me get up and follow him. As before he brought me 
to the tree, where Ali was sitting. All's face was dark, 
and his eyes were burning with anger, like fire. And 
he said to the men about him, " You see this dog Nadir 
Kuli? I chose him to guard my people who were 
scattered like sheep without a shepherd, and he has 
become a wolf. Take him and slay him." Then they 
seized me and were killing me — and I woke.' 

He tried to laugh again. 

* It was only a dream,' he said. But he looked in her 
face with eyes of doubt. 

* You are a Christian. You do not believe in dreams, 
or in Ali?' 

Sitara's heart was beating fast. His words and 
manner had frightened her in spite of herself. She 
smiled bravely. 

' My Lord, you are tired and have been thinking too 
much about these t^JPbil^fts- Persians. What is Ali ? 
He was ojK£|^^«. man. He cannot harm you. I have 
prayed day and night to Hazrat i Isa, the ^(b»^>^:NSNd. 
He will protect you.' 

' Inshallah ! For your sake he will protect me. God 
knows what has come to me to-night. I am like a 

She made him lie down, comforting him like a child 
— the mighty King and conqueror of whom men said 
that he feared nothing, neither man nor God. Soon his 
weariness overcame him and his eyes closed. 



An hour later she sprang to her knees again, to find 
him once more gazing at her with horror in his face. 
His forehead was damp with sweat. 

'Stay with me,' he said. 'Do not let me sleep. I 
have dreamt it all again. Oh my God ! I am afraid.' 

He passed a trembling hand over his forehead, and 
there was madness in his eyes, the madness of fear. 

Sitara knelt a>t his side, and in his weakness he held 
her fast, clinging to her as if for protection. At times 
his eyes would close in spite of himself, and the next 
instant his head would go up with a start. Brain and 
heart were disordered by over-fatigue and over- 

It was long past midnight, and all was still in the 
camp. Nadir lay silent with drooping head. Sitara 
still knelt by him, his hand holding hers. Suddenly 
she felt his grasp tighten. He raised his head. A 
faint sound came from outside. One second more and 
Sitara heard it distinctly — the sound of approaching 
footsteps, soft and stealthy, but unmistakable, the 
footsteps of several men moving swiftly. Then there 
was a cry of alarm, quickly cut short, a scuffle and 
fall, and a rush. 

Nadir was on his feet, his axe in his hand, rage and 
despair in his eyes, but no fear now. His deep voice 
thundered out a roar of warning and defiance. The 
curtain dropped to the ground, cut loose with sword 
strokes ; and through the doorway the lamp- light fell 
on thronging faces and the glitter of steel. 

As the foremost men sprang in, Nadir was upon 
them. Musa Beg went down under a blow which 
crashed into his brain. A tall officer of the Six 
Thousand reeled back, his life-blood spouting from 
a deep gash between neck and shoulder. The rest gave 



ground to right and left. But as Nadir wrenched away 
the axe blade, and turned upon the nearest, his foot 
caught in the fallen curtain, and he staggered headlong 
through the doorway. Before he could recover him- 
self, Saleh Beg's sword came down, striking him to 
his knees. As the Persian'^ arm rose for another blow, 
Sitara's dagger was buried in his heart, and with a 
passionate cry for help she was stabbing fiercely at 
the ring of murderers who pressed in upon their fallen 

Ahmed Khan stood in the torch-light, his sword red 
with Persian blood, and looked down at the headless 
trunk of the great leader he had tried to save. Near 
it lay the Rajput girl, the dagger still clenched in her 
stiffening fingers, faithful to the end. 


Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to His Majesty 
at the Edinburgh University Press 




DS Durand, (Sir) Heniy Mortimer 

294 Nadir Shah